This one was added to our list due to rave reviews about it on Broken Forum but I somehow missed noticing it back when it won a bunch of awards. It certainly counts as a low budget film with a tiny cast and as its title promises, about half of it takes place in a single room. Yet it is in every way a remarkable and highly impactful work.
Joy and her 5-year old son Jack live in a small enclosed space that they simply call Room. From their interactions, it is evident that Jack thinks that Room is the whole world and that there is nothing outside of it. Occasionally a man who they call Old Nick comes to bring them food and other supplies. During these visits, Jack is forced to sleep in the wardrobe while Old Nick has sex with Joy. The audience eventually realizes that Joy was kidnapped as a teenager and has been imprisoned for seven years. When Old Nick reveals that he has lost his job and has difficulty paying for their expenses, Joy fears for their survival and tricks him into giving Jack a chance to escape. When he does so, he is overwhelmed by the vastness of the world but manages to help the police locate his mother and free her as well.
Since I picked this one my wife knew nothing going in and could enjoy the experience of working out the circumstances of the mother and son on her son on her own. Most people however probably chose to watch this film based on what they already know of the premise so the mystery is lost. Still there’s no denying the effectiveness of the first half of the film. The room is tiny as we can see for ourselves yet the sense that it is literally the whole world to Jack is a powerfully poetic one as he goes around addressing each object in it as if they were old friends, calling each by name such that the capitalization is audible. Despite the confines, we’re never bored as we’re led to see the magic and wonder in these everyday objects through Jack’s eyes. At the same time, though Jack doesn’t understand it, we can see Joy working hard to keep Jack healthy and develop his mind, teaching him how to read and making sure he exercises. It’s heartbreaking to watch.
This is sufficient to make Room an amazing film yet when Jack and Joy finally gain freedom, it transforms into something else that is just as impressive. I’ve read multiple commentators exclaim about what a cathartic moment it is to watch Jack see for the first time the vastness and endless variety of the real world and I agree that it’s one of the greatest scenes in cinema that I’ve seen in a while. Simple joys such as eating a burger in a fast food restaurant are so filled with emotion that you can’t walk away without feeling a new appreciation for ordinary life. At the same time, the second half of the film deals with the long term trauma from the ordeal that they underwent and the recovery process, tough subjects that the film handles just as admirably. I especially appreciated how the man who abducted Joy isn’t part of the story, though we see from background news reports that he has been arrested. The film simply insists that it’s not about him at all.
Brie Larson won an Oscar for her performance here but it is child actor Jacob Tremblay who impresses me most of all. He was seven years old when he played the role of Jack and I cannot comprehend how director Lenny Abrahamson could wring this kind of performance out of a boy that young. All in all this is a fine film that hits you right in the guts. Highly recommended.