When I first saw the trailer for the movie Room, my interest was immediately piqued. However, as people who know me understand, immediate interest does not generate into immediate action. As a result, despite my desire to see the movie, I didn’t actually get around to seeing the movie until a month ago, months after it was first released in 2015. For those unfamiliar with it, Room is actually a film based on the book Room, which itself borrows its premise from the real life Fritzl case. In the Fritzl case, Austrian Josef Fritzl kidnapped and confined his daughter Elisabeth in a basement under their house and kept her there, hidden for 24 years. During those years, he repeatedly raped her and fathered around 7 kids. When Elisabeth was found and freed in 2008, one of her children, Felix, was only 5 years old when he was released — he discovered the rest of the world. Room tells that same story, except some of the details are changed. Instead of a father kidnapping his daughter, a stranger kidnaps a young girl. However, the premise of a 5 year old being released from a prison and discovering the world remains the same.
I had actually heard of the Fritzl case when the story first broke and part of my interest in the movie was actually because of this connection. However, as I had not really read the book, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect from the movie. The trailer seemed really promising and I remember seeing all the hoopla around the film during awards season. In fact, Brie Larson, who plays the young kidnapped girl/ mother in the film actually won an Oscar for her performance. With all this history behind my initial viewing of the movie, I had pretty high expectations and to be surprise, the movie actually delivered pretty highly. So here’s the review (spoiler-filled as always).
The movie begins with an introduction to Joy and her son Jack. The two live in a dirty and tiny little shed. The small shed is lined with a bathtub, toilet, small sink and stove, a single bed and closet. Joy (Ma as Jack calls her) and Jack share everything and are given sustenance by ‘Old Nick,’ Joy’s kidnapper and Jack’s biological dad. Old Nick brings the two food and other supplies and routinely visits Joy at night, while Jack supposedly sleeps in the closet (Joy is very vocal about refusing to let Nick and Jack interact). Despite her own obvious depression and their filthy living conditions, Joy tries her best to keep Jack happy and healthy. She makes him exercise daily and even bakes him a cake — the movie starts with Jack’s 5th birthday. As Jack’s only companions are Joy and their television set, he believes that the only real things in the world, are in the room; the rest are not real. Joy allows him to believe this as a way to keep him content. Hence, he addresses each thing, i.e. the bed, as if it were a real person/ thing with feelings. In fact, when he sees a rat for the first time, he is completely taken aback and wants to keep it as a pet because its the first breathing thing he’s seen, besides himself and Joy.
This world of Joy and Jack is seemingly cracked when Old Nick reveals that he has lost his job and hence supplies will be low. The crack is deepened when, out of curiosity, Jack attempts to interact with Old Nick, only to have Joy get violent and shove him away and Nick beat Joy. As punishment, Nick cuts the heating and electricity in the shed. Fearing the worst, Joy makes the decision to attempt and escape the room with Jack. She attempts to tell Jack about the real world, which he violently rejects. She then tries to have Jack fake a fever, in hopes that Nick will take Jack to the hospital. These scenes are actually so sad and so well enacted. Brie Larson is brilliant as the mother determined to protect her son and escape. And Jacob Tremblay is amazing as Jack. Jack’s revulsion at Joy’s attempts to fake his fever (Joy fake vomits to make it look real) are incredibly realistic and believable. However, the fever ruse fails as Nick decides to buy antibiotics instead of taking Jack to the hospital. Joy then practises faking death with Jack. She rolls him up in a carpet and has him practise rolling out of it, until Jack is in tears with frustration at his situation. Nick returns the next day and Joy pretends that Jack has died — Jack is actually wrapped in the carpet. She convinces Nick to take Jack’s ‘dead body’ away. Nick falls for the ruse and starts driving, with the alive Jack wrapped up in the carpet, in the trunk of a pickup truck.
As Nick drives his pickup, Jack is amazed at seeing the outside world for the first time. However, he gets over this excitement and unrolls himself and jumps out of the truck, into the arms of a passerby. The passerby shields him from Nick and the police arrive and after a trying time, Joy is rescued as well. The two are taken to a hospital and Joy is reunited with her family. However, she discovers that things have changed with her time in captivity — her parents are no longer together and her mother has a new partner. Joy and Jack move in with her mother and her mother’s new partner, Leo, while her father refuses to see Jack. During this time, Jack struggles to adjust to this new world, wanting to go back to the room and only speaking with his mother. However, gradually, he begins to open up and get comfortable with his grandmother and Leo. Joy, on the other hand, begins struggling with anger and depression, lashing out at her mother and getting angry with Jack for his slow progress. Things deteriorate to the point where Joy tries to commit suicide. She is sent away for treatment while Jack stays behind with his grandmother and Leo. Yet, despite their separation, Jack still continues to thrive and adapt and when Joy comes back, the two go and visit the room at Jack’s request. However, when they arrive there, Jack is surprised to discover how small the room is and how he no longer feels any attachment to it. The movie ends with the two saying goodbye to the room and walking away.
Story-wise, the movie is actually pretty great. But honestly, in my opinion, what makes the movie so brilliant and amazing and award-worthy, is the acting. Brie Larson, as mentioned before, is just amazing. You really feel and sympathize for Joy. She comes across as so real. Her depression, her anger, her hopeless, her happiness with Jack, all wonderfully enacted by Larson. But the real shining-star, I have to say, is Jacob Tremblay. He’s honestly a revelation in this film. If it wasn’t for him, I’m completely sure that the movie would not have been so engaging. Tremblay breathes such life into Jack. From his initial happiness and ignorance in the room, to frustration and anger with Joy’s attempts to escape, to fear and confusion in the real world, to his eventual acceptance of his current life, Tremblay shines in each scene. He puts forth such a wonderfully simultaneously delicate and strong performance. Perhaps it’s because he’s a fresh-faced actor or perhaps because he’s just a really strong actor in general, but the entire time I was watching the film, it felt like I was watching Jack onscreen, not Jacob. He dominated each and every scene he appeared in. I’m kind of peeved that he only got nominated for Best Supporting Actor in some awards to be honest. I think he was honestly the Best Actor or Leading Role Actor rather than supporting. If anything, I’d argue that Brie Larson was the supporting actress, rather than Tremblay, because most of the movie was from Jack’s point of view too. But, even then, it doesn’t take away from her achievement because she was also really good in the movie.
My only complaints with the movie, if any, would maybe be the script as I found it a bit too simplistic. I think there could’ve been more dialogue, but that’s a minor issue anyway. All in all, a really good heart-wrenching and heartwarming drama.
My rating: Go and see it for the revelation that is Jacob Tremblay, and be prepared to be blown away.