I think Room is going to draw some comparisons to another notable film with a child protagonist, Boyhood. Both feature really strong naturalistic performances from incredibly young child actors, but Room has a distinct advantage over Boyhood’s overambitious attempt at improvisational storytelling: it has a traditional narrative. Room is an insightful look into the mind of a child, but is also portrayed in a compelling way that offers a unique insight into the mind of this particular child that is intriguing because of the peculiar circumstances in which he was raised.
The film opens on Room, the only world that five-year-old Jack has ever known. He has never been outside the interior of the garden shed where his mother’s captor has imprisoned her for seven years, and as far as he is concerned, life is good. However, his mother Joy conceives a plot to finally get them out of Room and away from her rapist jailer, and after years of isolation the two finally make their way out into the world. It is in the latter half of the film that Jack must come to terms with a world that he doesn’t understand, a seemingly endless parade of people, places, and experiences far beyond what the small room prepared him for.
Despite the fact that the film dwells for slightly too long on life inside Room, the way the film frames the narrative around Jack’s perspective is incredibly impressive. Realistic voiceover accompanies Jack’s thoughts as we see how growing up with such a limited conception of reality has informed his perception of a whole new world. Equally ingenious is how the film chooses to limit the information given to the audience by mostly only showing scenes where Jack is present in order to perceive adult conversations and subplots. Jack is old enough to understand the words being said by the adults in his life, but his confusion is apparent even if we are able to comprehend the struggles that his mother has in adjusting back to life in the real world.
And that is perhaps also the double-edged sword of the film’s perspective. By limiting us so drastically in order to give us a better understanding of Jack’s mind, the nearly equally interesting Joy is given the short shrift, as her battles with depression and feelings of parental inadequacy are only seen from the outside perspective of her young son. This is obviously an intentional stylistic choice, and if one character is going to be the focus of the narrative, it should most definitely be Jack. However, I can’t help but feel that an opportunity was missed.
Director Lenny Abrahamson blew me away last year with the incredible film Frank, and once again he has used a unique perspective to craft a truly great film. Despite my inclination to highlight them, my gripes with the film are minor, and were potentially unavoidable in order to tell the story in a necessarily compelling way. Regardless, Room is one of the best films of the year thus far and one that assuredly deserves your recognition. Go see it.