There's never been a more innocent movie made about lying than Room, Lenny Abrahamson's new film based on Emma Donoghue's dreamy novel of the same name. Dreamy because of the myth at its core, Room is about a mother who creates a world for her son to grow up in while they're trapped in a terrifying situation. It's about protection, sacrifice, and love. It's about mothers and their children.
"Good morning Room!" It's young Jack's birthday and Ma has a cake ready for him. But Jack is upset there're no candles. He screams at Ma and she holds him with the patience of an alligator until he quiets. Later, Old Nick will come and the smell in Room will change. After he leaves, Jack can come out of Wardrobe and sleep in bed with Ma again.
However implausible you may find the plot of Room, about a young girl who's kidnapped, impregnated by her rapist, and held hostage in a backyard shed for seven years while the boy grows up in there with her, it's based on a true story. "Triggered" by it is actually the word Donoghue, who also wrote the screenplay, used in an interview once. But the facts are inconsequential. The film will make you believe in it anyway.
Credit Brie Larson and young Jack Tremblay, who turn in authentic performances in Room as Ma and Jack. Larson wears the years of Ma's captivity on her face and she wearily maintains the protective charade with Jack when we meet them, on Jack's 5th birthday. She's been in the shed for seven years. Larson's fake smiles read perfectly. We can tell she's acting for the kid, but Jack eats up every word.
Ma tells Jack that Room is the entire world and Skylight, in the ceiling high above, is the window to heaven, where Jack came from. Through fable, Ma protects Jack from the reality of their situation. Everything in Room is a friend, from Rug to Table and First Chair and Second Chair. Jack talks to all of them and has a special way with words in general: "The sun makes red through my lids." Jack narrates the novel with his pidgin language, but the movie largely loses the narration, relying on dialogue and production design to convey the myth.
Seven years and Ma only tried to escape once which earned her a hurt wrist from Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). The shed's one door has a keypad lock and only Nick knows the combination. He routinely comes to "visit," delivering meager groceries while he's at it, and he turns off the power when he feels like it. But he listens to Ma when she yells at him not to look at Jack. Likely out of shame and cowardice. Desperate, and obsessive over Jack's health for fear of an infection that might kill him, Ma hatches an escape plan that won't be ruined here. But it changes the entire complexion of the film and allows it to branch out in ways both expected and not.
Abrahamson, whose last film, Frank, was about a musician who walked around wearing a giant fake head (his own protection from the world), doesn't add many stylistic flourishes to Room. And some of his direction is heavy handed (especially coupled with the not-so-subtle score). Slow-motion is used at the wrong times to accent already powerful scenes. But Abrahamson does convey the sense of wonder in Room. Shooting chiefly in close-up, Abrahamson's camera can be both intimate and fantastical, like when Jack peers up at Skylight from the floor.
Room may not be believable, the worst kinds of evil stories seldom are, but that makes it even more of a myth. Jack, whose long hair is his "strong," like Samson, is the film's hero and a mythic figure himself. But he would be nothing without Ma, whose love transcends the worst humanity has to offer. There is no greater bond than that between mother and child, and Room is proof.