Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for CompuServe ShowBiz. Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
Grade: A-
Director:  Lenny Abrahamson
Written by: Emma Donoghue based on her novel
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Brie Larson, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Sean Bridgers
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 9/21/15
Opens:  October 16, 2015

In his “Allegory of the Cave” Plato wrote of a small group of people living in a cave, the only environment they knew.  They saw their shadows on the wall, projected by a fire, and considered these images to be reality.  One day, a fellow escaped from the cave, went out into the sun, and marveled at what he saw.  He returned to his fellows, who saw that the man’s eyes were blinking (from the sun) and told them what he saw.  They thought he was crazy and rejected the story of the outside world.  You would too.  Just imagine yourself born in a grotto, never seeing anything beyond that one room.  Imagine that your mother, who is imprisoned there when she was already a mature young woman, tells you about the real world.  You might think she’s crazy, too.

Such is the story behind “Room,” Lenny Abrahamson’s film based on a novel by its scriptwriter Emma Donoghue, a tense, suspenseful and insightful book that was shortlisted for literary prizes.  The movie opens seven years after a woman, having helped a man find a dog that he said was lost, was captured and put in a single room in a shed from which she could not escape as it is sealed by a door governed by a code known only by the owner-kidnapper.  She could not harm or kill the man, who would rape her repeatedly each week, lest she be locked in as though buried alive with no food no-one around to help.  Given the repeated molestations, it’s a wonder only that this woman had only one child during the seven years, a child who at the opening of the film is now celebrating his fifth birthday with a cake that he baked with his mother.

This is unusual story of a bond between a mother and her son, the boy having spoken to nobody but his mom for five years.  “Room” deserves praise partly for the suspense that Abrahamson evokes in his telescoped story behind the novel but mostly for superlative performances from both the youngster, Jacob Tremblay (now eight years old), in the role of Jack, and the woman, known simply as Ma, played by Brie Larson.  This is not Tremblay’s first movie: he is known for a role in Raja Gosnell’s “Smurfs 2” and will be seen shortly in Jeremy Lutter’s “Gord’s Brother” set in a land where monsters and human beings co-exist.

How does a mother bring up a boy in such an odd situation?  As you might imagine, she imposes some discipline common in the outside world such as limiting TV time (Old Nick, the kidnapper rapist, played by Sean Bridgers, supplies the room with TV and VCR as well as food, books, and the occasional game) and exercising  with the lad upon arising.  On most nights of the week, Jack is put inside a closet while Old Nick commits rape, the victim scared to death of resisting.  During the seven years that Joy Newsome, known as Ma, survives in these trying circumstances she is de-glamorized, showing a pimply face and an absence of make-up, while Jack’s only sign of years of incarceration is his long hair, which he fixes in a pony tail.  Mother and son frequently laugh, but when Jack is frustrated, he lets the poor woman know by screaming and pouting, like anyone in the outside world of such a youthful age.

Like the man in Plato’s cave, Jack and Ma do escape, sending the second part of the movie into the outside world where Jack sees the sky, the trees, and other humans in his extended family including his grandma (Joan Allen), his grandpa (William H. Macy), now separated, and the grandmother’s boyfriend Leo (Tom McCamus). Predictably enough he is frightened within the opulent home until he learn to trust the kind adults.

Neither the novel nor the movie puts much emphasis on the cops-and-robbers aspect.  We don’t witness the criminal’s trial or sentencing, nor is much fuss made of his arrest.  We focus principally on the boy’s wonder at the world as though he were blind during his brief life and now can see.  With the expanding of the victims’ world, we get some family dynamics, the most dramatic being Ma’s arguing with her own mother for advising her to be nice to everyone.  That counsel led to her trusting the kidnapper’s story of the lost dog, leading Ma to be dragged away to the shed.

“Room,” which is now being considered in the running for end-year honors including the Oscars has already picked up the People’s Choice award as best film at the 2015 Toronto International Festival, doubtless because the crowd were justifiably amazed by Brie Larson’s greater depth as a performer, but most of all by one of the great acting jobs by eight-year-old Jacob Tremblay.

Rated R.  113 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A
Technical – A-
Overall – B+


Facebook Comments

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *