The second feature on my film card for the opening night at the TCFF was a film called Room. I’ve got an idea for a second title for this film – Jack in the Box, and this is exactly what this film is about.
Jack is played by Jacob Tremblay, and when we meet him, he’s about to have his 5th birthday. Jack and his Mom Joy (played with a superb intensity by Brie Larson), live in a place called Room. It is a windowless space with only a skylight. There’s a bed, table, toilet, bath tub, sink, toaster oven, a small refrigerator, a small TV, a small stove, a cupboard or wardrobe, and a couple of wooden side chairs. This room is most likely no bigger than 18 x 18.
From the outside, this small building resembled a storage shed. Within, the space where Jack and Joy lived was sealed with an electronic key pad controlled steel door. On the outside, this building gave the appearance of being a tool shed with a single wooden door. Definitely not a place where two people lived.
Jack called this place Room. He had never been outside of this room. He believed this was the whole world. He could not conceptualize the word outside, or that there was something on the other side of the walls. What he knew of the world was an electronic version of imagination – meaning the TV. But to him, everything he saw on TV was simply TV. Not to be taken seriously. And most importantly, in Jack’s mind – everything he saw on TV was not real.
At one point, Joy tells Jack about the world. But he can’t accept what he hears. Jack says, you’re trying to trick me. Joy tells him that she is only telling him now because, now he is old enough to understand. Jack – I don’t want to be five anymore. I want to be four again
Joy had been taken captive by a man they called Old Nick. Nick wasn’t old, maybe in his mid or late thirties, but 7 years ago, he had lured Joy, who was at the time likely 18 or so, to the room by asking her to help him with a sick puppy.
As I said, that was 7 years ago. Joy had not been out of the room since. Old NIck brought in food, supplies, clothing and what ever was needed to sustain life. He also maintained the room and structure with electricity, space heating, and running water.
Joy provided a sexual outlet for Old Nick. Jack was born in this room and had never left it. Joy had never left the room either. In case you were wondering, the building is more than likely sound-proofed, and far enough away from any neighboring homes, that screaming or other noises they might make were never heard by anyone.
In the simplest of terms Joy had been held against her will for seven years. We are not made privy to anything about Nick’s reasons. While Joy and Jack lived in this small space, one could say that this room was their entire world – the only world Jack had ever known, and the only world Joy had been in for seven years.
Joy had parents, and from their perspective, Joy had been taken from them as in simply vanished from their lives.
This is Room, and while we did not see any true violence, or physical abuse, the mental aspect of this incarceration was beyond anything in our own experience. And to make it clear, Nick has not only held Joy in captivity, but Jack is the result of these rapes.
But this is only half the story. There’s more than just the captivity. There’s courage, and bravery, and most of all – hope. At the heart of the film are the sacrifices and the deceptions Joy makes to keep Jack both healthy and happy.
This, in my view is the most difficult part of the film to achieve. Joy is played by Brie Larson and there is already some buzz about Brie as an Oscar candidate for this film. While I am seeing this film at the TCFF, it has been playing theatrically in some limited and select venues. Here in Minnesota, and elsewhere, the film will go into wide release on October 30th.
The film is both claustrophobic and courageous, caring and cruel, and Ms Larson’s performance is high-octane, combustible, as well as brilliant. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson and with a screenplay by Emma Donoghue from her own 2010 novel, the film has to engage you without making you crazy from confinement, Working in such a small space, this is no easy feat. Donoghue’s script faces another challenge and that is to avoid the certainty of making the film over-cloyingly sweet.
I am calling this film a likely Oscar candidate yet some may find it too disturbing to consider even seeing it. Besides the leads, there’s an exceptional supporting cast headed up by Joan Allen, William H. Macy, and Sean Bridgers. I will rate the film at four-point zero and give it a high recommendation.