It really was like a needle in a haystack this year, but my was it worth the wait. I'm talking about ROOM, the quiet indie drama that I cannot stop thinking about after watching it for the first time a few days ago. Partly because it's been so long since I've seen a great film that I forgot what one looked like, and also because I remain struck by both the simplicity and tenderness of the narrative that is haunted by a deep tragedy.
So what is ROOM about? In a few words: the complexity of motherhood and life itself. And no, I'm not talking about the kind of pretentious existentialism found in most Terrence Malick films. ROOM is built on a foundation so unfathomable--the abduction, rape and forced domestication of Joy (Brie Larson), a 17-year-old young woman, trapped in a small, dilapidated and gloomy room with only her middle-aged male captor as her perpetual visitor. It isn't until Jack (Jacob Tremblay), born out of this horrible situation two years into it, enters her life that she is able to emotionally escape from her prison--through the innocent eyes of her young son. By immersing through Alice's Looking Glass and watching the "aliens who live inside the TV screen," Joy is able to protect Jack from the unthinkable reality they live in. But when he becomes more curious about their nightly visitor (who he only sees through the crevices of the closet/makeshift bed in which he sleeps), and his tantrums become more oppressive, Joy has to find the strength to get them out of this situation before it completely destroys them.
With a premise that's excruciatingly familiar in far too many different headlines, ROOM illuminates the human spirit at its most broken state--with its only motivation to assure the well-being of another. Larson's performance is remarkably authentic; she embodies the level of frustration, fear, desperation and anger that you would imagine from someone in this situation. It's a portrayal that captures not only the physical torture but the psychological imprisonment that crushes her soul. But then there is the aspect of her motherhood on top of all that, which is both a blessing and a curse in that it gives her a purpose--once stripped from her--yet it doesn't give her a whole lot of room to be angry or distraught. It is that sense of confinement that cripples her emotionally, and ultimately leads her to believe she's an unfit mother. To which Jack responds, "Yeah, but you're Ma."
Director Lenny Abrahamson, from Emma Donoghue's great screenplay (based on her novel of the same name), intentionally avoids showing the audience every single moment in this story (and it never goes where you expect it to)--allowing for several points of interpretation. Whether or not you like that tactic, you have to appreciate the fact that it's a dying style in film. Without all the answers, the film itself becomes even more unsettling, culminating in the audience's fear and disillusionment of certain characters.
With resonating performances throughout, including supporting characters played by Joan Allen and Tom McCamus, and immersive cinematography (literally every scene is shot so beautifully that you feel like you are experiencing it with the characters), ROOM is an amazing achievement all around.
Rating: A (***** out of *****)
Watch the trailer: