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Courtesy of A24 Films

February 28, 2016

You Better Make Room for This Film

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I went into Room knowing nothing other than that a mother and son are stuck in a room. For some reason, I was under the incorrect impression that this was a sci-fi plot, derivative of a Twilight Zone episode I had seen years ago. I don’t think this counts as a spoiler, but Room is very much grounded in a terrifying reality.

Told from the five-year-old Jack’s (Jacob Tremblay) perspective, Room tells the story of Jack and his mother, ‘Ma,’ aka Joy (Brie Larson), who are prisoners in a tiny tool shed. Joy had been kidnapped seven years earlier, at the age of seventeen. It’s the sort of story that, in real life, gets huge news attention when it happens, often catapulting small towns into the public consciousness, only to flicker away as the victim can’t be found and people get bored.

But Room stays with these captives, portraying the parts of their day that are at times mundane and could appear in any mother-child story (such as temper tantrums, cooking together, and reading together), as well as very unsettling and unique moments, such as when Joy hides from her son the fact that she is raped by her captor, his father, every night.

Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are both excellent in this film. Larson finds a poignant balance between being adolescent, having been kidnapped at seventeen, and adult, having to protect her young child. She’s a great mother, as well as a tragic victim. Tremblay too is a sight to see. His level of talent is no different from that of an adult, and it left me with many questions (Was he acting or did they pick a boy who perfectly resembles the character? Did they film each line in individual shots and then compile it together? Can someone just be that talented at such a young age?)

The room (or “Room,” as Jack calls it) becomes a character in the film as well. Complete with children’s artwork, nooks and crannies, and one skylight, Room becomes a space that is both comforting and terrifying. And, like any well-written character, Room undergoes changes of its own. The audience, like the characters in Room, looks at the Room differently as time goes on — realizing its new limitations and, in a weird way, opportunities and comforts.

There is so much this movie gets right that the parts that it get wrong feel hardly worth mentioning. That being said, the second half can drag a little bit and the film is a bit relentless. However, we are spared from some of the more brutal horrors because the story comes from Jack’s perspective and therefore what his five-year-old mind doesn’t understand, we sometimes don’t have to see.

Still, even with the censorship of what a young child can understand, this film was incredibly powerful. Room turned me into the sort of movie watcher that drives me nuts. I put both hands over my mouth, repeating “oh my god” quietly again and again.

This movie also had what I find myself looking for more and more — a new and different story. These characters were distinct, as was their story. When they finally do escape (I’ve decided this isn’t a spoiler because it’s featured in the trailer), you get to experience the world anew as Jack is so overwhelmed by all there is to experience. It makes the viewer all the more cognizant of what surrounds us every moment — from the texture of the ground, to the lights, smells and people. This film still haunts me, and every time I think about it something new comes to mind. Maybe that doesn’t sound like an endorsement, but trust me, it is.

Emily Kling is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at ekling@cornellsun.com. 

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