Room. The four walls that are a fortress, keeping Jack, and ironically named Joy, confined. Mother and child, wall, wall, wall, wall.
The objects inside room, a squalid shed, are given personalities. Table, chair one, chair two, lamp are all real beings for five year old Jack, who has never known anything but the objects in room, the fake flashing images of the television screen, heaven through the skylight and his deeply troubled, abused and victimised mother Joy.
The dark and dreary room, shrouded in a blue-tinged filter, contains no life within it but Jack and Joy. A stifling sense of depression and hopelessness is created by the claustrophobic cinematography and lack of texture that room holds. Jack is blissfully unaware of this, full of childlike innocence and wonder.
Each scene holds itself in the early parts of the film, snapshots of their day to day, tedious lives. Food rations, television, conversations. Rituals. Repeated over and over, with no other way to live without truly living.
One beautifully honest scene between mother and son happens quite early on, when Jack finds a mouse in room. He insists that he become a pet, claiming that mouse can share his food, against Joy’s insistence that the mouse is killed before it eats all of their ration of food. He doesn’t understand the adult and serious nature of their predicament, and Joy cannot explain to such a young child why it is important. Her despair comes from not being able to be honest with Jack, and this constant portrayal of horrible mother versus sensible and logical adult is tested in Brie Larson’s honest and pained portrayal of Joy.
Most of the films early scenes are shot predominantly in two-shot, connecting the characters through their emotional closeness and also the physical tie to each other that room enforces. This is broken only when ‘Old Nick’, their captor and Jack’s biological father, routinely enters room in order to drop off supplies and rape Joy.
When Joy attempts to tell Jack the truth, about the world outside of room, he reacts badly, which escalates into an emotionally charged argument between Larson and Jack’s Jacob Tremblay, who gives an impressively heartfelt performance of Jack as everything he knows about the world is smashed to smithereens. He is expected to forget everything he knows in favour of this new world, as Joy hatches a plan to help them escape.
Only at this moment do we find out the true story, of how Joy was captured seven years ago and imprisoned to room, how she was tricked by Old Nick and taken from her parents, and as Joy explodes with all of the emotions and feelings she has kept in for all those years, she simultaneously shatters her sons’ childish innocence.
The second half of the film, which takes place outside of room, is beautiful. Shot in rich colour and shocking sharpness, Jack’s first experience of the world is a vast, blue sky. This is the first instance of hope and happiness that the film presents us with, and we are in awe, just as Jack is.
But this film does not make any promises of complete freedom and redemption, and their struggle does not end after they escape Old Nick and Room. For one, Joy having not seen the outside world for seven years, and for Jack never having set foot outside room, poses both mental and physical threat to the malnourished pair. They struggle with the outside world, and the tragedy of their imprisonment is made more horrific by their escape.
The media grabs hold of them, making them instantly famous, and Joy struggles with her depression and cannot cope with this adjustment. Jack also struggles to adjust to other human interaction and interaction with the world that he previously thought did not exist.
It is in the films’ final moments, on revisiting Room, that we see just how far they have come, but also how much further they still have yet to go. Room is a heartfelt, honest and brutal film, whose villain is underdeveloped yet rightfully so. The natural villain here is Nick, yet we see surprisingly little of him. The real nemesis of this film is mental instability following the events that transpired, and how Joy and Jack overcome the horrors of their imprisonment. A gruelling, difficult film that should be seen once, if only once.