"Room" falls into that rare category of movies that are truly miserable to watch, but you simply must.
By that I do not mean that it is terrible, but that it is so good at what it does that you will be miserable at times while viewing it. I guarantee that you will tear up during the screening and want to pull your hair, because experiencing raw human frailty at such a close remove is a taxing experience.
Like "127 Hours" or "Boys Don't Cry," the film's exhausting nature is intrinsic to its cinematic worth -- which is considerable.
Based on the best-selling book by Emma Donoghue, who adapted it herself for the screenplay, "Room" takes a tabloid headline premise and turns it into a highly remarkable study of the infinite layers of the human soul. Director Lenny Abrahamson sensitively takes us into a tiny enclosed space, and shows how terrifying that can be, and then lets us out of it into the world beyond, and shows us how frightening that can be.
Brie Larson is possibly the best actress of her young generation, and if you missed her in the excellent "Short Term 12" -- nearly everyone did -- then this movie should cement her status. She plays Ma, a young mother living with her son, Jack, who as the story opens is just turning 5. They are each other's entire world, because they have never left Room, as they describe their tiny, cluttered living space.
Without it ever being overtly said, we sense what has happened. Ma, whose real name is Joy, was somehow captured and imprisoned in this space. It was obviously a man, because that is how she got Jack. She has been there for years -- her ghostlike pallor and glum resolve instruct us so. She is long past the point of rebellion or despair, and has come to grudgingly accept her life in Room.
For Jack, she has built an elaborate ruse to keep him from yearning for the real world. Room is everything there is, he believes, except for the single window in the roof looking out on the sky, which is outer space. They have an old television that shows jumpy images, cartoons, shows, even newscasts, but he believes everything there is imaginary: "TV people."
The man, known only as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), visits every now and then, always at night, to satisfy his carnal wants, and deliver food and supplies. Jack is put into the wardrobe on these evenings so man and boy don't interact -- they have never even met, by both his and Joy's choice, though Jack watches through the slats and is aware.
It's essentially the most depraved family unit in human history, where the father is keeping the mother and child locked up under his yoke.
Jack is played by young Jacob Tremblay, in one of those gasp-inducing child performances that is so unaffected and true that it only comes along once every generation or so. I think of Haley Joel Osment in "The Sixth Sense," and do not find Tremblay wanting in the comparison.
Jack is a creature of utter innocence, but also realistic 5-year-old petulance. He is beginning to question his world and push back against the way his mother defines it for him. One wonders how an adolescent would react to being in Room... which we won't know because they get out halfway through the film.
I won't say how, or why, but stating that their time in Room comes to an end will not spoil your experience. (The movie trailer gives away as much.) I don't wish to say too much about Joy and Jack's time after Room, other than it involves trying to integrate themselves into a family that is different from the one she left. Each struggles in their own way, but not the way we might expect.
This is one of the most emotionally wrenching experiences you will ever have at the movies. Larson and Tremblay form one of the closest bonds we've ever witnessed on screen, in a pair of performances that I'm sure will be remembered come Oscar time. Here is one of the year's best films.