THE STORY OF Room, the excellent novel turned into a bland movie, is gripping enough: a woman is kidnapped, raped (repeatedly), impregnated and imprisoned in a shed with the son she gives birth to…for over five years. To the son, the room is his entire universe. And then one day, rolled in a carpet like Cleopatra, he’s smuggled out… reborn as it were to a new world, a new reality. The whole thing is told through his uncomprehending eyes.
But the movie, despite the brilliance of its two principal actors (Brie Larson from Trainwreck and the nine year old Jacob Tremblay), was written by the book’s author (Emma Donoghue), who also wrote the screenplay for…why, nothing else. This is always a risky proposition. And in this case, Room the moving novel absolutely fails to make the transition from book to film.
Because the movie (true to the book) is also told from the kid’s perspective and (probably also) in an attempt not to sensationalize the story, the film pulls back on ever giving us a clue to Ma (the mother’s) dread, her sense of desolation and loss, what must have been her loathing…horror of the nightly rapes. Even the drama and tension of the escape and the kid’s near recapture is a listless, unexciting affair. Jack (the kid’s) reality was that all was fine. So we the audience are left with having to work very hard to feel otherwise.
Director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) places the emotional emphasis instead on the bond between mother and child. For five years, locked in a small room, Ma manages to make Jack’s life happy and fulfilling. There’s a real chemistry between the two actors and the love they show is touchingly real.
But what we gain with the emphasis on the mother/child relationship (symbolically the room is still her womb) we lose with the drama.
The movie feels flat, as if drained of tension and energy.
Certainly Abrahamson works hard to retain the integrity of the central idea driving the tale: reality is a very personal, esoteric conceit (that’s why “all’s well” in the room); and one that’s almost impossible to redefine and reimagine.
Jack (Tremblay) has only ever known the room. He’s proud of his ability to distinguish the difference between what’s real (his bed, his cupboard, his mother…) and what’s unreal (the worlds he experiences on TV). The problem comes when there’s the need to replace one reality (the room) with another (the world ‘out there’). A naturally happy, chatty boy, he clams up and whispers only to his mother (Larson) – the only remaining vestige of the reality he’s known. Indeed, when we see him in his new environment (the capacious home of his grandmother – the always compelling Joan Allen – and her partner, Sean Bridges from Trumbo), we see him through the bars and grills of the stairs, doorways etc, as if he’s in a prison.
but he’s young…and as one character notes, “plastic”. If the room has been his only experience, his sense of reality is not so set that it can’t be amended. Not so much his mother. No longer in control of the situation (despite being a kidnap victim and sex slave) and newly terrified by “the world”, she simply loses it. Even as the son breaks away from the barriers of his mind, she becomes ever trapped…unable to adjust to the new reality she faces. And his grandfather (William H Macy) just can’t handle the fact that his daughter had been raped and his grandson, who he can’t look in the eye, is the result of the union. Indeed (it is implied) it was the attempt to get to grips with a missing daughter, dread reality that that is, that caused the breakdown of his marriage.
It’s a solid, intelligent movie. It’s just, well…dull.
ROOM. Dir:Lenny Abrahamson. WITH: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridges, Hoan Allen, William H Macy. SCREENPLAY: Emma Donoghue. CINEMATOGRAPHER: Danny Cohen. PRODUCTION DESIGN: Ethan Tobman