The Young Person's Guide to Human Cruelty
Room starts with one mystery and ends with another. In between, it warps your mind and makes your realize just how vast the world can be. And how narrow.
It's Jack's (Jacob Tremblay) fifth birthday. He gets up that morning, very excited, announcing to Ma (Brie Larson) that he is, indeed, five, then proceeds his morning greetings of the things in his environment: the chair, the table, the cupboard, the humble things that he is familiar with and has made friends with. His hair is long and has probably not been cut since he was born. The two watch a little television on a set that is small and has poor reception. Jack thinks the people on the TV are aliens. He has no idea who they are, or where they are, where they come from. Later, he helps Ma make his birthday cake—small, made with few ingredients and a lot of love. He's upset that there are no candles for his cake, but Ma tells him that she needed to get jeans instead. And "Old Nick" can only get a couple things at a time...and then only on Sundays.
|Jack and Ma
Where the hell are we? Is this a bunker in the past or the future? Has there been a nuclear conflagration? Some economic disaster forcing people to live in hovels? What circumstances force them to live like this? And "Old Nick" is a euphemism for Satan—could mother and child be held by some religious cult against their will? One is hesitant to talk too much about the particulars for fear of ruining the surprises and the shocks to the system that the movie brings to the viewer. So, this will, by necessity, be a short review.But, the opening situation is unusual in that it drops us into a bizarre family life that plays on some of our worst fears in the absence of certainty. It's just mother and child with limited technology and next to nothing as far as available light, which only comes into the space from an overhead skylight. As time goes on and we spend more time with them, clues add to our knowledge of what's going on, and slowly but surely the motives of the mother and child change from survival to escape.
It must fall to Jack to make the escape, and it's dangerous. He's only five years old, knows nothing of the world beyond the room, and he is tasked with saving himself and the only person he knows in the world. The stakes are high and unknowable to him, but what one worries about is what happens to this test-tube child once he is born again into a world seemingly endlessly from the eight square feet that has been his world.
When that revelation comes, it is amazing (this Tremblay kid is a great little actor), but the movie has far to go. It introduces him to a new world and then turns it upside down, just as it does with Ma. The "room" was never safe, but the outside world isn't, either, where the dangers are unknown and could come around unseen, past every corner.
The "room" had no unseen corners.
One of the things that causes conflicts and neuroses in people that is either "worked out" by themselves or by therapy is perspective. We are born into our environments, through no fault of our own, and, unless we are very wise or curious, that may be our whole world-view, limited as it is, into adulthood. That perspective beyond our experience may be what adulthood is—what maturity is—and it is only attained when we burst the bubble of ourselves and our comfort zones.
Room inspires thoughts like that, which makes me admire it so much. Movies have their "comfort zones" like popcorn and this one definitely thinks (if you will) "outside the box." It stimulates curiosity and puts you in the perspective of real people you might have heard of only in headlines. What is life like for them?
Room asks "what if?" questions. I like those. "What if" is a great tool for writers and actors, and this film has no uninteresting performances (Brie Larson won a surprising Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress, deserved I thought, even though there are flashier and more studied performances this year—and she's nominated for an Oscar for it as well, which can only increase people's curiosities about this fine film) in a cast full of good actors besides Larson and Tremblay, but also Joan Allen and William H. Macy, the latter turning in a tough, tough performance that is clear-eyed and unsentimental.
This one has stayed with me for a long time.