Friday, November 27, 2015

ROOM (2015)

(Not to be confused with "The" Room, don't want Wiseau Films on my ass...) 

It's often hard to get the point of view from a book to translate to another medium like a film - usually you try to use narration if you can, or just follow the plot as closely as possible, but point of view, how a character sees things and to get that point of view and emotional experience for an audience, is insanely difficult (often times it's just enough to get solid/consistent performances and tone right). Room is based on the book of the same name (and the author scripted the film, Emma Donoghue) and I've been told that the story is told from the first-person perspective of the 5-year old Jack (I've sadly not read it, yet).

It would be a challenge for a director to get that perspective for the film, especially in what the scope of this is as half of the film takes place inside of a room (that is a shed in the backyard). But by and large the point of view IS maintained, and it's to such a degree that I found that I got so much from Jack's perspective while at the same time not losing just what was needed to be seen from 'Ma', the mother. This is just a part of what makes this such a rich and important and moving cinematic experience, but a key one.

Not since I saw E.T. again a few years back did I have such a strong reaction to a film where a child is the (or a) main character. You have to take it down to their level sometimes to make an impact, and what makes it so strong and potent as drama is that, unless you're 5 yourself (or, hell, maybe in that case too), you come from the perspective of an adult but have to have that experience. In this case the story is about a young woman who, we find out, was kidnapped at the age of 17, locked away, and had a kid by her captor.

The story starts off when the child is just turning 5, and this whole system/universe has been set up by the mother to keep her son in this system. And from his point of view, having never seen anything different, it's not so bad: there's plenty of room in this room, after all, and even sleeping in his little closet at night isn't so bad (though it's strange how Old Nick - that's not his real name by the way - and he gets to play with his best friend, Ma, all day long. And when he's told by her about the 'world' out there, it sounds like an abstract concept.

The film has the structure of a thriller, for the first half, in just the way of 'how are they getting OUT of there?' The performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as the young Jack are so exceptional - they just feel completely lived in, psychologically, the look of them (he with his long hair, her without make-up to say the least) - that you never question this set up. At first you're just dropped in here, and I wasn't sure what the situation was, if, say, she intentionally had Jack under control as part of some cult with 'Old Nick' as some special protector or something.

It speaks to how direct the POV is for this kid that it takes him being told what's up for it to sink in how horrible this whole thing is. And yet the emotional component, the love for mother to son and son to mother, makes this so powerful that it's hard to think any other way for them to find a way out. I was more on the edge of my seat seeing how/if Ma and Jack could get out of this (by Ma subterfuge of Jack being sick, and he having to play along, which as she sees is tough to do) than I was with more Hollywood thrill-rides in all my years of movie-going.

There is a second half to the film, however, and this much can be seen from the trailer (I almost wish I hadn't seen that, much less glad I hadn't read the book), and this is life in the "world" in full. This is where it really becomes fascinating past the 'will they or won't they' part of it. Here the point of view takes on another dimension: how can Jack interact with people after only knowing one (maybe two) his whole life?

What about toys, or trusting others or being able to speak up for things? But what's even more impactful is how Ma doesn't completely cope with things, though she know she should, that now's the time to be happy. We get those moments where we see Ma struggling, and it just speaks volumes to see Larson and Tremblay looking at each other, interacting, the side that knows the damage done and the other side who won't really understand fully for years. That's where the tragedy lies, and the director Lenny Abrahamson never milks it into soapy melodrama: always the conflict is just laid bare, without any manipulation needed.

Even in this scene, where Ma has to be interviewed for TV so that she can pay legal bills (another tragedy that's not overlooked), the POV is I'd say 80% from Jack and 20% from the 'real' world
In other words, think back to the movie Oldboy, where a character was locked away for 15 years and didn't know why (until, of course, he's 'let go', and then the movie becomes about that). What if all you knew was the prison cell, and someone else next to you also locked up knows why and can't do anything about it (and in a way also can't fully grasp why - the "bad things happen to good people" thing). Of course this is a real event that sadly occurs and people tend to notice it, 'aw, that's too bad', and go on with their day.

The monumental impact of Room, why it's one of the dramas to really shake me in the past several years, is that the filmmakers and writer don't look away, they look at what this can do and does to people, both those who understand and those that don't, and even deeper than that is what makes the world the WORLD, good from bad and so on. What makes for consciousness and understanding and connection with people? And all the same it's a richly emotional experience; by the time the end comes, which is a climax that has to do with reconciling what's come before and moving on (a "goodbye Room" moment), I couldn't hold back from crying - maybe in some joy for the characters, but also pain at what they had lost/been taken from them.

Easily the best American film I've seen this year.

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