Sunday, November 22, 2015

THE WORLD: a review of "Room"

Screenplay Written by Emma Donoghue, based upon her original novel
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
**** (four stars)

This film left me sitting silently in my theater seat for several minutes after the end credit scroll, final fade out and the theater house lights going back up, for its quiet power packed that tremendous of a punch.

Director Lenny Abrahamson's "Room," his adaptation of the best selling novel by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the film's screenplay), is a compulsively watchable and superbly wrenching film that I feel will disturb and haunt unlike most films released in 2015, especially if you have not read the novel (like myself). In fact, what is even more surprising about the experience of this film, is how empathetic and life affirming it actually is considering the excessive horror that fuels the story. In some ways, I am finding it difficult to figure out how to review this film without revealing too terribly much about the plot but I will try as I do think that "Room," while not only being compelling, poetic, as well as being an intelligently emotional and cerebral steam roller, it is also one of the very best films of 2015.

I'll try to keep it brief...

"Room" stars the sensationally naturalistic Jacob Tremblay as 5 year old Jack, who lives within a tiny room with his young Mother played beautifully by Brie Larson. The crowded room in question contains a bathtub, equally small yet functioning kitchen, a closet, television, and bed, which Jack shares with his Ma. Yet, there are no windows other than a skylight...and no means of leaving.

For Jack, the entirety of the world is this very room, as if it existed as its own planet, where Jack and Ma are the only people, animals and plant life don't exist and even the images on television are invented approximations of human beings. Only through a seismic event does Jack begin to view and experience the world as it truly exists through his own eyes and growing perceptions of what constitutes reality, with its complete horrors and wonders.

Lenny Abrahamson's "Room" is a remarkable, multi-layered film that richly merges aspects of a thriller, psychological drama, survival story and a family drama, with the bonds of a Mother and child at its core. I will strongly warn those of you reading who happen to be parents that this film just may be too agonizing to sit through. Frankly, for myself, I found the film's first half to be intense to the point of excruciating. But that being said, there is nothing presented within the film that is gratuitous in any fashion. All violence is suggested and for a film that does indeed contains vibrant themes of abuse, imprisonment, and rape, and unflinchingly so, Abrahamson handles every moment with as much restraint and unquestionable truth to the story he is attempting to tell.

For "Room," with all of its nightmarish qualities, is a story of survival, healing, the protection and cultivation of innocence and the resiliency of the human spirit, especially the spirit contained within a child. Often as I watched the film, memories of Director Peter Jackson's unfairly maligned, undeniably weird yet deeply effective "The Lovely Bones" (2009) as well as those from Director Terry Gilliam's repugnant, career worst "Tideland" (2005) entered my brain, as each of those films covered similar thematic territories that deal with searing trauma told from a child's perspective.

Perhaps, it is that very perception, as Abrahamson elegantly visualizes, that keeps the terror and pain of the film's story simultaneously upfront but is never presented tastelessly. As I have previously stated, there is no on-screen violence whatsoever as Abrahamson stages the film as viewing the world through Jack's eyes. Even during one climactic moment, we are given the untainted purity of Jack's perception of the world while also sitting on the edges of our seats, with nerves completely frayed and fried.

Jacob Tremblay, with his piercing eyes and androgynous appearance due to his lengthy, uncut hair, is enormously riveting as Jack. While never cloying or treacly for even a second, Tremblay possesses the talent to carry the superior load that "Room" has placed upon his tiny shoulders, much like when I viewed Quvenzhane Wallis' powerhouse and unforced performance in Director Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts Of The Southern Wild" (2012). Just as unforced, Tremblay conveys an enormous depth of simultaneous wonder and pathos as he not only is forced to navigate a world that is ever changing and growing but also one who is able to carry an inner strength and resolve weighty enough to sustain himself and his family, especially his Mother. I am hoping this young actor receives some attention during awards season for he deserves it greatly.

Speaking of awards season attention, get ready for heaps of accolades to be bestowed upon Brie Larson, who takes what could have existed as nothing more than Lifetime television histrionics and transformed it into a subtly devastating psychological portrait of a woman undergoing an unfathomable experience while also attempting to provide strength and inconceivable normalcy for her son.

To that end, both Tremblay and Larson are aided heroically by the great Joan Allen, Tom McCamus, Sean Bridgers and even William H. Macy, who makes mountains out of his two or three scant scenes. All of these participants congeal masterfully to create a feverishly dark and demonstrably hopeful ode to the prevalence of the human spirit even when life presents itself at its bleakest and hopeless. Never for one moment did I feel the wheels of manipulation creaking along as Abrahamson clearly mined the material for every kernel of truth, most distinctly from this child's eye of the world and his specific place within it, be it a room, life outside of it and the world that encases himself and his family.

Lenny Abrahamson's "Room" is a deeply effective drama that will indeed come just this close to shattering you. But, even greater, it also engages us in a distinctly philosophical fashion, forcing us to take note of the even the most seemingly mundane aspects of the world(s) that surround us.

For how much would we miss even the slightest elements if they were to be taken away.

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