Book to movie review: “Room”

Back in 2011, Emma Donaghue’s Room was a book that I raved about. Since then, it’s been adapted into a critically-acclaimed movie, which was just nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama, at the Golden Globes.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to watch this movie, as it’s not been screened here yet in the Philippines. BUT, Beth Kelly saw it a few weeks ago, and emailed me if I would be interested in posting her review of the movie on the blog. Of course, I agreed – and you can read all about it after the cut!

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Normality in Strangeness: Room Review

Released on the independent film circuit in September, Room is picking up momentum as it goes mainstream. This year’s big screen adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel relays a shocking story of kidnapping, rape and abuse, while managing to send a larger message of hope and eternal love. Readers of the book may not be surprised by various plot twists, but they will surely appreciate the skillful translation of Donoghue’s words into visual art.

The film opens with Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) still held captive by the nefarious Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) in a small shed in his backyard. Seen as either cramped and rundown or magical and homelike, depending on whether the perspective is the mother’s or the child’s, director Lenny Abrahamson does a skillful job shifting perspectives and showing how the same space can appear completely different to two different people. Ma is shown as strong and gentle when with Jack, but the horrors she is enduring are also hinted at through the scenes featuring Old Nick.

We arrive at the film’s emotional core after the captives regain their freedom during a desperate and courageous escape masterminded by Ma, but carried out by Jack. While to many it may seem that the film should have ended there, with a happy ending achieved and a family reunited, in fact it is just the beginning of the most harrowing part of their journey. Ma has been through an emotional ordeal that stole her childhood from her and which she struggles to talk about even to her family. Jack is trying to adjust to an entirely new world, when his world previously consisted of four walls and the objects within. Neither of their journeys are easy, though it’s clear Ma has the harder of the two. We also see how difficult it is for Ma’s own mother (Joan Allen), who has been searching for her kidnapped daughter for years, to deal with her child’s pain and trauma.

In the end it is not the act of attaining physical freedom that the story focuses on. It is instead the path towards attaining spiritual freedom that is the heart of the movie. Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) convincingly plays the monster under the bed, portraying a sick and twisted man who has the ability to both ruin a young girl’s life while still displaying short moments of kindness himself. Ma goes from having to be a rock for her son to lean on and the shield that keeps his world normal, to a young woman struggling to regain some semblance of her own youth. Jack, in a show of youthful resilience, has perhaps the most straightforward journey as his physical and familial boundaries enlarge drastically. Even Nancy, Ma’s own mother, has her own winding path towards accepting her daughter as she is now rather than as the young and innocent girl she remembers.

Produced by A24 Films and DirecTV, the same partnership responsible for well-received literary flick The End of the Tour earlier this year, Room is a touching tribute to motherhood and the strength of the human spirit. The characters all clearly show their vulnerability and strength, for good and for ill, as they try to regain some normality within the strangeness of their situation. Though outsiders are shown with their own part to play and their own motivations, as both police officers and the press intrude upon the newly reunited family, the core of the film remains with the central characters. Its gift is in reflecting both the best and the worst humanity has to offer in a subtle and realistic film that will stay with fans long after the credits roll.

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