I was nervous about seeing Lenny Abrahamson’s ROOM, and yet I knew it was going to be wonderful. The reviews are all marvelous, they use words like “incredible”, “transcendent”, “rewarding.” One critic even went so far as to say it was one of the best films of the decade. It certainly wasn’t these adoring adjectives that caused my feeling of hesitation, but the other word that was so constantly tucked in beside them: harrowing.
The film is based on an equally acclaimed novel by Emma Donoghue, which was inspired by the real life story of Elizabeth Fritzl. Fritzl was imprisoned in a basement compound in Austria by her father for 24 years. It is an awful story, and a fascinating example of human resilience. Elizabeth bore seven children in the basement, raising three of them there. When she escaped in 2008, her “downstairs” children saw the outside world for the first time in their lives. Her son, Felix, was five when he emerged, and it was the idea of his early experiences in the real world that inspired Emma Donoghue to write Room.
So you can see why the word “harrowing” might apply. ROOM is set predominantly in a tiny room, where “Ma” (Brie Larson) has been imprisoned for seven years by “Old Nick”. She gave birth to her son, Jack, within the room, and has brought him up to believe that Room is the entire world – there is nothing outside. Every night after dinner, Jack goes to bed in the wardrobe, and he is only allowed to move to the bed once Old Nick’s nightly visit is over.
The thing I liked best about ROOM was how delicately the awfulness of the story was handled. There were many moments of suspense, intensity, and emotion, but there were no cheap shocks, no gratuitous violence, no close ups. Both the novel and film tell the story from Jack’s point of view, which is what makes the telling of such a tale bearable. Through Jack’s eyes, the film becomes a tale of discovery and wonder. It’s about the beauty and magic of the world around us, but most of all, it’s about his relationship with Ma.
The performances from Brie Larson (Ma) and Jacob Tremblay (Jack), are so remarkable that I didn’t want the movie to end. I wanted to stay in their lives, see Jack grow up, see Ma heal and move on. I looked around the cinema when the lights came up and I saw a sea of tears. We were all emotionally exhausted, but also exclaiming at how amazing and beautiful ROOM was. It’s rare for a film to take such a long time to leave my head. I found myself thinking about it for days afterward, talking about it with people, searching for the book in shops. This lasting feeling had very little to do with the trauma of the Room, and everything to do with the beautiful, resilient characters within it. That feeling alone makes this film so eminently worth watching, regardless of how unsure you are about the word “harrowing”.
Room is in cinemas now. Get tickets.