Room is rated 15 for strong language, abduction theme
Warning: Contains plot spoilers
The Scoop – At once delicate and deeply powerful, Room finds hope in the midst of unimaginable horrors.
Jack (Jacob Tremblay) is turning five. He’s excited to celebrate his birthday by making a cake with his beloved Ma (Brie Larson). Jack’s life is happy and colourful, filled with daydreams and imaginary friends. Jack’s world is the size of a single room.
But now he’s bigger, Ma wants him to know something. The world outside, the pretend world he thought only existed on TV, is real. And Ma is concocting a plan to escape the clutches of their captor, leaving Room behind forever.
The word uplifting is both overused and misused when it comes to film criticism. Generally, it’s code for, ‘this film takes a tough story and gives it an unrealistically positive spin to make it palatable’. As a result I tend to shy away from anything labelled with the U-word. But in the case of Room, it’s thoroughly earned.
Based on Emma Donoghue’s bestselling novel, which was itself inspired by the Fritzl case, Room wastes no time sensationalising an ugly crime. We hardly see the face of Ma’s abductor, Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). Though the worst of what she endures is only implied, her suffering – as portrayed by the wondrous Brie Larson – is compassionately and sensitively drawn.
The sequences depicting Ma and Jack’s life together in Room are moving and harrowing, but I found the film’s second half, in which they must adjust to the outside world, equally powerful. Surprising ambiguities come into play, and it’s clear that the physical walls of Room were never the only prison. I’ll be thinking about these characters, and their tentative journey towards hope, for a long time.
- How much did you know about Room going in, and what did you expect from the film? Did it meet your expectations, and why or why not? If you’ve read the novel, do you think this was a good adaptation?
- What did you think of the two central performances? Did you believe Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as mother and son?
- How did the film go about telling the story from Jack’s point of view? In your opinion, was using Jack’s viewpoint a good filmmaking choice, and why or why not? In what ways does it limit the narrative, and what creative possibilities does it open up?
I’ve been in the world 37 hours. I’ve seen pancakes, and a stairs, and birds, and windows, and hundreds of cars. – Jack
- What emotions did you experience throughout the film, and which scenes did you find the most moving? What draws us to go and see films with tough subject matter? Why might it be important that we do?
- There are several references to fairy tales while Ma and Jack are in Room, as well as to Alice in Wonderland and The Count of Monte Cristo. In what ways does Room treat its own story like a fairy tale? To what extent do you think Room is supposed to be a ‘realistic’ portrayal of an abduction story?
- What challenges do Ma and Jack face in the outside world, compared to the challenges they faced in Room? Did any of these challenges surprise you? Could you empathise with the reactions of the other characters – Nancy (Joan Allen), Robert (William H Macy) or Leo (Tom McCamus)?
Hello, Jack. Thanks for saving our little girl. – Nancy
- What universal aspects of parenting does Room touch on? What hopes and dreams does Ma have for Jack, and what is she prepared to sacrifice in order to make sure he has a future?
- Room echoes several real-life stories, involving the unimaginable suffering of real people. What moral responsibilities do filmmakers have when portraying a story like this? In your view, does Room manage to avoid being exploitative – and if so, how?
- We generally expect Hollywood films to end on an inspirational, life-affirming note. Would you describe Room‘s ending in this way, and was it an appropriate conclusion to the story? What enables people to have real hope in harrowing circumstances, and how might this kind of hope compare to Hollywood’s brand of optimism?
You’re going to love it. The world. – Ma