Saturday, January 16, 2016


 4 / 5 

An unexpected grace and dignity infuse Room, a movie in which two people have to make the most of what very, very little they have.

One of them, known mostly as "Ma" in the movie but actually named Joy Newsome, was kidnapped when she was 17 and held captive by a man called "Old Nick," who locked her in a storage shed sealed by an impenetrable door, only one skylight high above her to remind her of the world from which she was separated.

The other is Jack, and he is her son.  When the movie begins, he's just about to turn 5.  Joy is 24 now, and if her world seems bleak, consider that she spent two years on her own before Jack came along.  Somehow, she has managed to raise him to speak, read, think, function.

"Room" is all Jack knows, and up until now, Ma has never told him that there is anything else.  He has taken what little he has seen of the world -- on television, in children's books -- and processed it through the brain of a boy who has never even considered that there could be life beyond these four walls, or that there is anyone else in the world except Ma and, once in a while, Old Nick, from whom he must avert his eyes.

Room begins with a situation that is hopeless, despairing and claustrophobic, and thanks largely to the luminous work of its two leading actors -- Brie Larson as Ma and Jacob Tremblay as Jack -- manages to contain love and warmth, even as the creeping dread of futility sets in.

About an hour in to Room, in a scene filled with anxiety and tension, Ma and Jack manage to escape.  That leads into the film's second half, which is slightly less focused, at least at first.  Ma and Jack are reunited with her parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy), but it turns out much has changed over the past seven years.  How, or even if, Ma and Jack can adjust to freedom drives much of the film's plot -- but just simmering under that plot is an even more intriguing theme: Was life in "Room" as bleak as it seemed?

Of course it was.  Held against her will, repeatedly raped, living in squalor and filth, "Room" held nothing for either of them.  Yet, it was the totality of Jack's life and, as he says at one point, "Ma was always there."

Room deconstructs the gothic fairy-tale gloom of the sequestered, neglected Rapunzel, splitting a single character into both the innocent child in the tower who doesn't know the world exists so can't miss it (Jack even has extra-long hair), and the young woman who must escape.

For a while, Room is much like Ma/Joy herself, who has trouble finding her own way through life once she's released.  The film's middle third is a little meandering, a little too unsure of how it feels about what has happened.  Yet, the two main actors are so compelling and have created such fully realized characters that as long as one or the other of them are on screen, Room remains captivating.  (Larson has deservedly been nominated for an Oscar; how Tremblay was overlooked, given the Academy's penchant to recognize young performers in "adult" categories, is a head-scratcher; his is a truly extraordinary performance.)

Room is at its surest when it explores how deep the bond is between mother and son, and how these two people have made a world out of just each other.  Its final moments reinforce that connection in a scene that resonates with the profound sense of love and equally profound sense of loss that permeate Room.

Viewed Jan. 16, 2016 -- DVD

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