Hear ye, hear ye! Brie Larson for Best Actress!
This Oscar better be a slam dunk for her. I really can’t see why it wouldn’t be — Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence have already won, Saoirse Ronan still even better work ahead of her, and I think we know the Academy well enough to know Charlotte Rampling won’t get it (sorry) — but I think Larson deserves it anyhow. The story presented in Room required a specific type of focused and intense yet restrained and delicate performance. And even though I’m sure a veritable ton of actresses went out for the role, and maybe could have played it fine, only Larson could have truly nailed it the way she did. The sympathy she evokes for the situation is immediately relatable, precisely because Larson herself is, despite it being something that, thankfully, virtually none of us have experienced.
Room is based on the book by Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the screenplay, and who crafted the story after hearing about a similar real-life case. Larson is Joy Newsome, who’s raising her son Jack (the truly incredible Jacob Tremblay) inside of a one-room shack where they’re both being held captive. She’s been in there for seven years, he for the entire five years of his life. Nick (Sean Bridgers), their captor, is also Jack’s father, Joy’s rapist (presumably) and their occasional supplier of rations.
You can’t not feel nauseous watching this movie, but I mean that as a compliment. Joy creates the most wonderful, loving home possible for Jack — she structures his days as best she can in terms of school subjects, she paints as realistic a picture she can about the Room world vs. the outside world, she treats him as maturely as she can for the sake of both of their mental states, and she lets him be as much of a kid as he can be in an enclosed space — and yet every stark background detail of the movie is sickening. They’re awash in shades of brown, simply because Room is deteriorating, their clothes are worn out, the light source is single and overhead, and they’re reusing everything they own at a very rapid pace.
Amazingly, what I didn’t feel watching this movie was claustrophobia. I’m not sure how that’s possible, but maybe it has to do with seeing Room from Jack’s perspective. Since it’s his entire universe, it’s infinite to him. It’s also filmed in such a way that it seems to have pockets, sections, rooms of its own. That’s all Joy’s (and the set designer’s) doing.
Of course, thank goodness, spoiler alert, there is triumph at the end, though it’s not without massive complications. Joy devises a brilliant, dangerous plan to get them out of there, five years in the making. She waits until Jack is old enough to fend for himself, yet still young enough to appear immediately helpless, and she coaches him to play dead rolled up in a rug. When Nick removes the “body,” he escapes, causes a ruckus, and catches the attention of an adult. Obviously, the plan was risky, but it was their only, miraculous shot.
Seeing Jack out in the world for the first time is also nauseating. You feel how overwhelmed he is, right along with him, because being enclosed in his world for 90 minutes makes you forget about life’s variables, too. Everything’s bright, big, moving, deadly and unexplainable out there. When mother and son are reunited, and brought to Joy’s parents’ house to begin reassimilating into normal society, Joy finds herself answering and demonstrating answers to questions none of us would even think of, like how to navigate stairs or where the sound comes from in a phone.
She also finds herself wrestling with grown-up questions from other grown-ups, namely from the interviewer that she chooses to speak to on national television and from her father (played by Wm. H. Macy). The interviewer questions her choices in front of the biggest audience possible, and it’s downright anger-inducing. It makes you feel for all the other hostages that have ever had to retrace their steps publicly and explain themselves to people who don’t understand an ounce of what they experienced. There’s no way for any of us to know that horror, nor to know how drastically different the world is after it, nor to comprehend trust again. Macy, as Joy’s father, refuses to acknowledge Jack, which is a very special, specific, deep kind of hate that only Macy can play with sympathy.
Eventually the combination of these things, plus the overwhelming spectacle of it all, gets to Joy, and she attempts suicide. Oddly enough, when she’s taken away to recover, it gives Jack the opportunity to operate independently with his grandparents and attempt to make friends. It is the cliche blessing in disguise, but it demonstrates how reliable human nature can be if we let it kick in once in awhile. By the time she returns, he’s gained something only he could gain for himself: confidence. When we see them revisit Room one last time, for literal closure, we know they’re going to turn out fine, because they’re finally bigger than that square space. To paraphrase Walt Whitman, they contain multitudes, no matter what room they’re in.