Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers
Spoilers Within: Yes
Originally posted 31st March 2016 on Letterboxd.
Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’ tells the story of captives chained to one wall of a cave, fixed to stare at the opposite wall for their whole lives: from childhood, until death. On this wall there are moving figures and shapes that they assign their own nouns and adjectives to describe what they believe is the only thing in the world. These images are friends; they’re enemies; they’re everything that they can perceive as real, and nothing else exists or can exist.
One day, a captive breaks free and discovers that behind them was a fire – and further still – there were people passing behind that fire, casting the dancing shadows and silhouettes that the captives knew as real. This escapee crawls from the cave and sees the world, the sky, nature, and people and realises that there is a real, tangible world out there that was previously unfathomable to him. His idea is to return to the cave and teach the other captives about his discovery, and therein lies Plato’s question: would you choose to hold on to the pain of your confines, or would you trust the unknown and dare to break free? There is much more to Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’ (and I’m certainly not the person to try and explain it all) but at a rudimentary level, this is the question that Lenny Abrahamson’s Room poses to us, but does so from the perspective of an innocent five-year-old boy.
It goes without saying here that the cast is absolutely powerful, with a well-deserved Oscar for the consistently excellent Brie Larson, and Jacob Tremblay balances the annoying and charming on an almost preternatural level, each split-second change of mood spitting such raw power, seen no better than his absolutely heart-wrenching delivery of “I hate you” after Ma (Larson) forces him to practice their escape. It’s not just these two that command their scenes, but every one of the core cast: William H. Macy, Joan Allen and Tom McCamus are also radiant in their respective roles.
Remaining in the dark about Room is highly recommended, so if you know next-to-nothing, keep it that way. Going in blind, I had zero idea that there would be an escape so was wrapped up in the emotions held within the confines of their prison that once Jack had managed to get out of Old Nick’s (the quietly frightening Sean Anders) truck, I felt that the conclusion was around the corner. It’s to the credit of the screenwriter (Emma Donaghue, who also wrote the novel on which the film is based) that it holds on to your emotions so tightly that the elated relief of their escape is a one-two sucker punch; the expectation of Nick’s looming attack on Ma’s deception, balanced with the comfort that they both make it safely home makes it hard to top.
Speaking solely of the ‘escape’: it’s absolutely nail-biting in its execution, switching from Jack’s POV as he is wrapped up in the familiarised carpet, to the brand new, never-before-seen world that he has had no prior concept of, nor the imagination to do so. Just like the captives in Plato’s’ Cave, to Jack, all that existed outside of the walls of Room was space. By keeping the entire story in Jack’s perspective, we get to experience what it could be like knowing nothing of the outside world, and by not comprehending reality we – as the audience – can fully sympathise with his innocence and his desire to go back to Room.
Room shows a lot of restrained direction from Abrahamson (who previously wowed me with the nuanced What Richard Did), but ofttimes he ignores this restraint for a distracting camera angle here, or an oddly measured glance there, but these peculiar directional flourishes are easy to overlook, especially when the film has such emotional resonance and the direction of the cast is essentially flawless. Both Abrahamson and Donoghue did an exceptional job of creating the world through Jack’s eyes, making a 10 x 10 shed intimate and warm to a five-year-old, as opposed to the dark and vacant Room that they visit at the end.
As much a tearjerker as the bulk of the film was, my choice scene that broke my tear ducts was the contrast between Jack’s initial greetings to the inanimate objects of Room (which served – not only as his entire existence – but also his ‘friends’) to the moment of saying farewell to each of these furnishings; a simple, brisk ending that demonstrated his development from pure innocence to understanding that his life – and those he meets along the way – will never be what it was once.
The conclusion is a compassionate, elegant tale of maternal love, first by the protection of the truth of their situation, then by the faith and realisation that in this world, sometimes the affirmation of a child’s love is all you need to keep you fighting.
Though there is a scant number of tracks in Room, there would never have been any other choice. This Will Destroy You‘s thumping drum line coupled with the confusion and shock of Jack’s first experience of the world outside of his confines was a staggeringly perfect match of aural and visual emotions. I can’t think of a piece of music that would’ve worked better.
Note: their self-titled album from which this track is from is faultless, so check out the whole thing if you’re into it.