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Room

Released 2015. Director: Lenny Abrahamson

A CHILD'S VIEW OF THE WORLD IS ONE OF IMAGINATION, fancy, make-believe and innocence. For 5-year-old Jack, it’s a world of magic, TV people, outer space, a place so far beyond his reach in the tiny space he lives in. What Jack doesn’t understand is he’s a prisoner, a boy who was born in a backyard shed, and has never seen or taken a step outside. The word ‘outside’ must be such a strange concept to Jack.

His only companion in their cramped living space is his Ma, who cooks, cleans, reads to him and together they make toys out of egg shells. Every night Jack sleeps in the closet and occasionally he hears Old Nick comes in to bring them supplies and do things with Ma. What Jack doesn’t understand is Ma has been held captive by Old Nick for seven years.

Telling the story from a child’s perspective may have soften the edges just a little, the horror of what really goes on isn’t diminished as we soon learn why this young woman and her son live in this tiny room and are never allowed out.

Jacob Tremblay is an amazing talent. Credit to Lenny Abrahamson for drawing out such an honest, heartfelt performance from a child actor in what must be an emotionally heightened environment. Brie Larson’s role is one that not many people could personally identify with. Abducted, assaulted and imprisoned, she takes the strength of an abuse survivor to a powerful place. It’s an intimate and intense performance of a young woman barely out her teens, a mother, a saviour, a source of balance and sanity that belies the bleak reality of her circumstances.

Room is ultimately about finding the space in which you belong, as Ma and Jack return to the outside world. The dramatic escape of Jack is a heart-stopping sequence that makes you want to get up and grab Jack out of Old Nick’s clutches as the boy tumbles and struggles in slow motion, blinded by so much light and unaccustomed to running.

The second half of the movie is quite literally a different world for Jack, now seeing and experiencing everything for the first time in his life. There are other people, real people. His grandparents. Houses. Cars. Toys. Kids. Dogs.

We see how Jack reacts to his new environment with the natural curiosity of a child. He reaches out, copes and adjusts. On the other hand, Jack sees his Ma retreat, after the initial wave of emotions of release gradually subsides. The trauma she has endured, which she couldn’t possibly share with Jack, overcomes her and consumes her. Too young to fully grasp the significance, Jack’s wish to return to his place of confinement for one last time brings his mother the closure she didn’t know she needed. Once the boy was her reason to keep on living. Now, the boy is her source of healing.

For a story that begins with a disturbing premise, claustrophobic psychologically and literally, Abrahamson and writer Emma Donoghue have carefully shaped a movie from harrowing to uplifting, from bleak to hopeful and forward-looking.

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