Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay fight for freedom in Room
Based on a best-selling book by an Irish writer and with an Irish director, Room has already seen lead actress Brie Larson pick up a Golden Globe, while the film is very much in contention at the Oscars too, writes Brian Campbell
ECLECTIC is certainly the word for talented Irish director Lenny Abrahamson’s choice of film subjects.
After his 2004 debut Adam and Paul, about a pair of Dublin heroin addicts, he turned his attentions to a simple-minded petrol station attendant played by Pat Shortt (Garage), a fictionalised story loosely based on the murder of a teenager in Dublin outside a nightclub (What Richard Did) and – most recently – the 2014 film Frank, very loosely based on the singer/comic Frank Sidebottom.
Now Abrahamson directs Room – for which he has been nominated for an Oscar – with Irish writer Emma Donoghue herself adapting her 2010 book for the big screen. (She too has been nominated for an Oscar, for Best Adapted Screenplay, while Room is also in the running in the Best Film and Best Actress categories, star Brie Larson having been nominated too – quite an achievement for an Irish movie.)
The book was inspired by the horrific Fritzl case in Austria, which came to light in 2008, when it was reported that Elisabeth Fritzl had been imprisoned and repeatedly assaulted and raped by her father Josef, resulting in the birth of seven children.
In Room, the story revolves around Joy Newsome (Larson) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) – who has just turned five. We learn they have been imprisoned in a 10ft by 10ft room – with only a small skylight as their window on the world – by a man they call ‘Old Nick’.
The first half of the film is based on their life in the place they call ‘room’; the second half sees the pair escape and adjust to the real world. Before the daring escape – and the scene in which Jack sees the open sky for the first time is exhilarating – Joy decided to admit to Jack that ‘room’ wasn’t the only place in the world, telling him, ‘We can’t keep living like this’.
She tells her son that she was “stolen” by their captor seven years ago at the age of 17, so at this point it’s clear to us that the scumbag who constantly rapes her is Jack’s father. Jack can’t process the idea of an outside world and lashes out at his mum, telling her “I want a different story”.
The film is told from Jack’s point of view and in voiceover he explains how he sees the world – “mountains are too big to be real... TV persons are flat and made of colours” – and he has an imaginary dog and is quite excited when he sees an actual mouse.
When he and his mum are freed, he stares out of the window of the hospital they’ve been taken to and asks, ‘Are we on another planet?’
Joy’s parents (played by William H Macy and Joan Allen) are overcome with emotion to see her after seven years – a time that must have seemed like an eternity. Joy and Jack both struggle to adapt to their freedom and to being surrounded by people. Joy can’t stand that her father isn’t able to look Jack in the eye because of how he came into the world, while a gruelling TV interview – apparently done for the money – is something Joy quickly regrets signing up for.
It’s a well-constructed film but it’s a grim subject matter and it’s not completely compelling for the full two hours. Tremblay is fantastic as Jack, perfectly conveying a child’s sense of wonder, and Larson – who won a Golden Globe for her role last weekend – is excellent too. However, despite what it says on the promotional blurbs, I wouldn’t describe this film as ‘uplifting’.
:: Room opens at QFT Belfast today and runs until January 28. (queensfilmtheatre.com)