By: Tim Cogshell
Photo by: Sugar Shot Photography
The film Room, adapted by Emma Donoghue from her own 2010 novel, has been the talk of Hollywood since well before it was actually made. Its distributor, A24 (fast becoming the early 90’s version of Miramax of its generation), acquired rights at Cannes prior to its production. Since its premiere at Telluride, critical praise has been overwhelmingly positive and I appreciate it too. I just didn’t like it.
Mostly, Room made me really uncomfortable. Which, one supposes, is how we know it’s working. Even the contemplation of such a circumstance – a young woman taken unwillingly, held captive, and raped repeatedly for years – is a mind-boggler that requires significant credulity.
Except that it happened.
To be clear, the story of the girl who was kidnapped by the local neighborhood sociopath that you are probably thinking of right now is not the one portrayed in this adaptation of Donoghue’s novel. The story you are thinking of is the Cleveland Abduction case – the subject of an upcoming film starring Tara Manning – about 21-year-old single mother Michelle Knight, who was kidnapped by a man named Ariel Castro in August 2002. Castro would abduct two other young women, one of whom would give birth during their 11-year captivity.
This story is not that story, but the factual one does imbue Room with a sense of plausibility that it might not have were it not for our knowledge of those real world events. Which is to say this could happen – because it did.
Directed by Irishman Lenny Abrahamson (Adam & Paul, 2006;What Richard Did, 2012), Room depends both on a believable circumstance (which we’ve established) and the performances of its leads, Brie Larson as Ma and five-year-old actor Jacob Tremblay as her son Jack.
Jack was born in captivity and has never known anything but their “room,” the things in it, and the occasional presence of Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), the man who kidnapped Ma when she was 17 years old and locked her away in a soundproof room with a metal door and a coded lock – seven years ago.
The reason that the real world story of the Cleveland abductees is so poignant is the heroic perseverance of the young women involved – and because of their dramatic and daring escape. Suffice it to say the same is true of this similar tale.
Indeed, much of the narrative of Room is concerned with what happens after Ma and Jack’s dramatic escape, all of which is cleverly conceived and executed with gut-wrenching intensity. Yet it comes fairly early on in the film, which should come as no surprise because Room is not a prison escape thriller wherein the escaping is the point – it is necessary; it’s just not the point.
Both Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are very good. Larson’s character is a victim who has not settled into victimhood. As we enter the story, she has long since set that rightful victimhood aside to become mother first; protector of her son, for whom she has built a world where their circumstances are simply the circumstances of the whole universe, where he knows one thing for sure, Ma will always be there.
Couched in reality and replete with great performances (Joan Allen and William H. Macy, as well as several supporting players), Room is a well done, topical film that succeeds by all measures and I do appreciate it greatly.
But I still don’t like it. Nevertheless – well done all.
Room (2015). Dir.: Lenny Abrahamson. Scr.: Emma Donoghue, from her own novel. Cast: Brie Larson. Jacob Tremblay. Sean Bridgers. Joan Allen. William H. Macy. Wendy Crewson. Randal Edwards. Cas Anvar.