Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson
Running time: 1 hr 58 minutes
“When I was four I thought everything in TV was just TV, then I was five and Ma unlied about lots of it being pictures of real and Outside being totally real. Now I’m in Outside but it turns out lots of it isn’t real at all.”
The cramped 11×11 ft interior of a sealed, sound-proof shed is the starting mise-en-scène for Emma Donoghue’s “Room”, a worldwide publishing success shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2010. It is the prison for a brutalised young mother and the cocoon for her five year old son. Told from Jack’s perspective, for whom the enclosure is his entire world, the book is haunting. Cupboard. Sink. Bathtub. Toilet.
Room moves us because we experience the heartache of a child who is forced not only to escape but to survive Outside. Donoghue’s writing juxtaposes the voice of an under-informed narrator with an emotional realisation and cataclysm that is beyond his years. The mother-son relationship and the unfolding of the horrors that they have experienced is through simplistic, childlike language that leaves us emotionally raw. Yet the difficulty of reading the novel is that despite being consumed by it and reading it in one sitting, writing as a creative medium engages us to question whether it is at all possible for a child to grasp the concepts that he is experiencing to such a magnitude. From the ideas of socialisation to his perception of recovery “I don’t know why hurting means getting better” the concepts that are explored are so complex that it does not fully resonate with a child.
In contrast, the film adaption consumes us from the very start. The handling of the screenplay by the author herself conveys masterfully both the language of the novel itself and the interior monologue that keeps us riveted in the perspective of the 5 year old protagonist. The voice of the film captures poignantly the innocence, the pain and struggle of a child with no concept of Outside or World.
Director Lenny Abrahamson and cinematographer Danny Cohen captures how for Jack (Jacob Tremblay), “The world is always changing brightness and hotness and soundness” beautifully. The focus on the interplay between Jack and Ma (Brie Larson) and the shifting of their world both metaphorically and physically is captured through shifts from muted, muggy close up shots within Room to the intensity of colours in the Outside. We experience the deliberate claustrophobic but comforting routine of Jack and Ma, to the open expanse of the Outside through brilliantly screened shots. Abrahamson displays restraint and taste, equipping his viewers with the ability to lose themselves in a movie of such an intimate nature.
Despite my love of novels and the written form, the film surpasses the novel and leaves readers breathless with its emotional impact. The vague implausibility of the novel are rendered inconsequential as we are caught up in the exemplary performances. It is a film about subtlety. Abrahamson rightly focuses on the performances and frames the movie through the experiences of the character. The subject matter is grim and unforgiving but here through the eyes of a child, the innocence and emotional journal is whimsical and heartbreaking.
Feature image courtesy A24