By: Shahbaz Khayambashi
Lenny Abrahamson follows Frank, his underrated study of the effects of mental isolation on the human psyche, with the TIFF People’s Choice Award-winning Room, which looks at the other side of the matter: the effects of physical isolation on the human psyche.
The film tells the story of a woman (Brie Larson) and her five year old son (Jacob Tremblay), both of whom have been kept prisoners in a man’s shed for seven years. This is, unfortunately, an all too common story in our current zeitgeist, which is why this film or a similar one needed to be made (2011’s Michael came close, but it focused more on the mental state of the perpetrator than the victim, while the 2015 Netflix TV series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt used the concept as a starting point).
Room begins on the child’s fifth birthday, and the mother’s decision to find a way to get the two of them out of the room in which they have been imprisoned. The basic idea behind the film revolves around perceptions of reality and how it is perceived by someone who knows a truth versus someone else who was raised with a lie: the child is incapable of understanding how anything could exist outside the walls where he was conceived, born and raised.
The movie’s main strengths are the writing and direction which will bring tears to your eyes, as well as the supporting performances by Joan Allen, Tom McCamus and the short cameo by William H. Macy. The performances by the two leading actors occasionally suffer from artificiality, but as Sontag or Dauphinée would point out, it is impossible to understand a traumatic event when you are not the one experiencing it. Larson and Tremblay can hardly be blamed for not performing on par with actual trauma victims.
There were a lot of questions that I would have liked to see the film tackle (some were implied, while others were entirely ignored) but that would result in a much longer film. Overall, Room is not perfect, but you will not regret viewing it. Oscar bait, it is not!
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam