There’s very little I can say about director Lenny Abrahamson’s brilliant and heart-wrenching drama Room that has not already been said – critics and audiences have praised it and the Oscars rewarded it. As the film makes its way onto Blu-ray this month, audiences will have another opportunity to experience the painful humanity of this drama, a story about a mother/child bond forged in trauma and fantasy.
Room is not an easy film to watch; while it avoids overly explicit depiction of the abuse experienced by Joy (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) at the hands of their kidnapper Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), it is nevertheless a disturbing, claustrophobic film that treats its subject with unblinking understanding. It does not shy away from the aftermath of their trauma, their difficulty in adapting to the world outside their prison, and their intense connection during the first five years of Jack’s life where they were, for all intents and purposes, the only two people in the world.
In avoiding overt examination of abuse, the film further avoids making this story about the abuser. Nick is a near-phantom, a shadow in Jack’s life, not a real person, and his downfall is not even explicitly depicted on-screen. It’s all about Joy and Jack, as well it should be.
The first half of Room develops the fantasy world that Joy so carefully constructs for her son, keeping him from any contact with Nick and maintaining his belief that the “real world” is confined to the small room in which they are imprisoned. While for Joy the room is a trap, for Jack it’s his only world, his mother the only tangible human being outside of himself.
The second half of the film picks up with the pair’s escape from the room, as Jack must come to understand the reality of the world outside and the part he’ll have to play in it. The internal conflicts and fears of the room are now externalized, and the viewer is made to feel both Joy’s relief in their rescue, and Jack’s terror at the world outside.
Room succeeds at being a strikingly human and humane film, providing tension, respite and even humor in the midst of terrible circumstances. Larson richly deserved her Best Actress Oscar, but her performance is firmly anchored in her relationship with Tremblay, undoubtedly a young actor to watch.
Between them they form a believable, intense bond, one in which they depend absolutely on one another – and the severing of that bond, so necessary for their lives to continue, is more painful for Joy than it ultimately is for Jack. Joy has maintained the fiction of their lives for so long that she has come to believe in it as a necessity for survival.
The Blu-ray release of Room is an attractive one, presented in 1080p HD and DTS Surround Sound. It’s an excellent film to watch on the small screen too, as its intimacy provides the viewer with a sense of claustrophobia and immersion that is sometimes hard to achieve on a large screen. While some recent Blu-ray releases have been overly contrasted, with their visually darker scenes occasionally hard to decipher, Room is well-balanced – we almost don’t realize how dark the scenes inside the room are until, like Jack, we’re plunged into the brightness of the outside world.
Like the film, the special features on this disc are sparse but powerful. These include an excellent twelve minute “making of” feature with interviews with the cast and crew about the development of the film, its casting, and filming. “11×11” discusses the relationship between Joy and Jack and the set design and cinematography of the room, while “Recreating Room” provides a brief glimpse of the rebuilding of the Room set as a part of a multimedia installation. The ubiquitous but always interesting audio commentary with the filmmakers rounds out the disc.
Room is an example of how intimate and powerful filmmaking can be while avoiding cliché and melodrama. It occasionally made me uncomfortable to watch, but that was part of the point: this is not a comfortable subject. But perhaps Room’s strongest message is in what it chooses not to express. Room is not about repressing trauma; it’s about coping with it, surviving it, and eventually transcending it not through anger or hate, but through unbreakable, indelible love.
A brilliant and heart-wrenching drama, Room richly deserves all the accolades it has received.