Once upon a time… and during my lifetime, there have been many revelations about people ‘locked’ away in rooms, usually by someone who professes to love them.
Some have survived, some not, but those who have despite all the help in the world, will not really live a life unfettered by the experience.
That is unless they are five years old and then, all you as an adult can do is to hope that in time the healing process will help the memories to fade.
Based on Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue’s award-winning 2010 novel inspired by similar real-life crimes, ROOM’s success depends on the strength of the connection between mother and son.
Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) have been locked together in a small room in a shed in a backyard of a suburban neighbourhood for five years.
She has been there for seven.
ROOM is sparsely furnished and very cramped, a place where no one can hear them scream, because its owner has soundproofed it.
Kidnapped by ‘Old Bridger’ as Ma calls him, she is regularly raped as it suits her captor’s schedule.
Two years after being captured she gave birth to a baby boy, all within ROOM’s confines and without support. It’s hard to imagine how difficult that must have been.
Once Jack is born his ‘Ma’ is daily faced with making her son’s life as normal and as full as she can, focusing on gentle domesticity. She is also patiently waiting for an opportunity to escape.
ROOM is a story of love so powerful, sometimes it feels completely overwhelming in its intimacy.
You cannot help but be amazed at Ma’s fortitude and have your heart pierced through by the purity of the performance by Jacob Tremblay as Jack. He was recently awarded the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor.
ROOM is an intense emotional experience, one that reveals how the human spirit transcends the physical boundary of four walls.
Jacob’s complete lack of artifice, enormous fragility, sweet charm and the sheer delight he takes in his meagre possessions allows us to feel and understand Jack’s wonderment of the whole of the world as he knows it.
Jack is five when we meet him first. After waking up each day he circles ROOM saying good morning to every object, the sink, the toilet, the wardrobe and more.
He and Ma have breakfast and then commit to an exercise regime that helps keep their bodies in as good a shape as possible.
Jack hasn’t had his hair cut since he has been born. It’s halfway down his back and he believes it helps give him strength. After all his mother has told him the story about Samson.
He puts it into a pony tail each day, cleaning his teeth well and taking the vitamins his mother dispenses to help make up for the very poor nutritional diet they eat.
His mother protects him from her regular visits by her captor ‘Old Bridger’, by making Jack a bed in the wardrobe, shutting the louvre doors and letting him know he must be silent and cannot come out at all while a visitor is in ROOM.
Jack up until now has been a very obedient child… but how long will it last? When will his curiosity assert itself for the first time?
Ma’s efforts mean that Jack is as happy as he can be, smart and energetic, he’s an avid watcher of Dora the Explorer on TV, which he knows is make believe.
His mother has made his life full teaching him how to be creative with the limited resources they have, such as egg shells and the inner roll of the toilet paper.
She keeps him amused by telling him tales of Alice in Wonderland, the Count of Monte Cristo and singing him to sleep longing for a visit to the Big Rock Candy Mountain.
Jack has become very adept at just being still and quiet, lying on the floor looking up and out through their only window a skylight in the roof, while listening to sounds from outside.
In sweeping close ups we sense Jack’s sheer pleasure at looking at each new shaft of light as it pierces their world, or just the fun of watching a little mouse snatching a few crumbs from the floor.
We happen upon them both in ROOM on the day Jack is having his fifth birthday. He and his mother are baking a cake, cooking it in the small cooking appliance she uses to magically make their meals.
He’s helping her to crack the eggs and mix the batter, and she even makes icing for the top. However, he becomes more than distressed when there is no candle to blow out and refuses to eat it.
She realises now that Jack is five; life for them both is slowly going to be tougher. He’s becoming far more aware, asking questions she’s struggling to answer and left wondering just how much longer she will be able to keep him in his wardrobe bed when Old Nick comes to visit
She also senses ‘Old Bridger’ is also becoming far more aware that Jack is becoming a protective little boy for his mother, and so she now fears for his safety.
So Ma makes a plan and teaches Jack through repetition, how to help them escape.
Brie Larson is brilliant as ‘Ma’; her Golden Globe winning and Academy Award nominated performance while rewarding, must have been a gruelling experience to surmount each day on set.
Gaining freedom in the outside world for both is a challenge far harder to surmount than she can possibly imagine.
If her plan does succeed and Jack’s found as she hopes, how will the authorities then find his mother because Jack has no real sense of a world outside ROOM and she’s unsure of how he will react when suddenly exposed to it.
She does her best to prepare him and then suddenly its happening and as he is taken from ROOM, she is distraught at the enormity of the responsibility she has placed on her five year old child.
Unbelievably her plan succeeds and a stranger who calls the police helps Jack until they come.
Being sensitive to his surroundings, after all he’s had plenty of practice in listening to sounds in his five short years, Jack is able to guide them back to the normal neighbourhood street where they find and liberate his mother from her backyard prison before ‘Old Bridger’ comes back.
The result is far more than Ma could have possibly hoped for, it’s all quite overwhelming as suddenly they are both set free.
Then it becomes harder, especially for Ma who is struggling to quickly readapt to being outside and the building media involvement.
When her parents arrive and are ecstatic, all they want to do is take her home against the Dr’s wishes.
There she discovers her father (William H. Macy) and mother (Joan Allen) are divorced and her mother has a new good-natured live in man in her life.
Seven years is after all, a very long time. Then she finds her father cannot look at the child she had conceived at all and has to leave.
Ma’s psychological journey we know now is going to be far harder than Jacks.
Being only five, he is slowly beginning to bloom, while just as gradually she is receding into a shell like a petulant child, angry with both her parents and herself.
It is no surprise that she has a complete meltdown, a terrifying event for Jack when he finds Ma in trouble on the bathroom floor.
This is when their umbilical cord, which has remained invisibly in place since Jack was born, is finally severed and she’s taken away to hospital.
The event has been triggered by questions asked by an uncaring media who cannot possibly imagine the fear and terror of the world she and Jack have lived in and struggled to survive.
She has sold her story to gain much-needed funds for them both so they can plan a life of their own, naively not understanding how hard it would be.
Asked why she hadn’t unselfishly given Jack up at birth by having Old Bridger leave the baby at a church, a hospital or somewhere where he will be found, she is left feeling guilty at seeking to have wanted Jack’s presence to help make her life in ROOM bearable.
While this movie does not delve heavily into the adult relationships before the event, it does pose many questions about the place where we all do find contentment, or is such a concept only an illusion?
The film is certainly a triumph for nurture over nature for it is only Ma’s bravery and dedication to her child that brings them both through their terrible ordeal.
Helping his mother he has had his grandmother cut off his hair to send to her so she can become strong again and come home.
As it ends she’s back home and all that is needed now is for her close a door on the past, knowing that she did her best for them both in difficult circumstances, so that they can both look forward to the future together.
We feel comforted that will happen because Jack is now growing up fast and eager to join into and have a full life in the world he did not know existed.
When she finally does he asks could they have a final visit to ROOM, which turns out to be therapeutic for them both proving Jack wise beyond his years.
Stripped of all their possessions as ‘evidence’ ROOM seems so unthreatening now, bare and open to the world waiting to be demolished, Jack circles the walls touching it and those objects left within what seems now a very small space.
He’s saying goodbye one last time to ROOM and hello to the wider larger and far more promising WORLD outside.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015
Watch the Trailer
Watch Jacob’s Award Winning Speech
Winning 2016 Critic’s Choice Award for Best Young Performer
Brie Larson as Joy “Ma” Newsome
Jacob Tremblay as Jack Newsome
Joan Allen as Nancy Newsome
William H. Macy as Robert Newsome
Sean Bridgers as Old Nick
Tom McCamus as Leo
Amanda Brugel as Officer Parker
Joe Pingue as Officer Grabowski