Oscars Round Up: Lenny Abrahamson’s ‘Room’ tugs mercilessly at our perceptions

The LV film team has been loving this series, highlighting Oscar nominees in advance of Sunday’s awards ceremony. First, John Rigby discussed ‘45 Years,’ next was Warren Sprouse’s ‘Theeb‘ review and, yesterday, Matthew Byrd checked in with his take on ‘Brooklyn.’

Today, Jaret Morlan (who wrote the piece on Sunday’s Oscar watch party for Issue 193) takes on the powerful drama ‘Room,’ nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Actress (Brie Larson), Best Director (Lenny Abrahamson), Best Adapted Screenplay (Emma Donoghue) and Best Picture. Bonus: If you haven’t seen it yet, you can buy or rent this film right now on Amazon or iTunes.

Perception is, as you’ve been told most of your life, reality. How you perceive something, your perspective, your point-of-view, is real. It may not be factual, or even reasonable, but it is the reality under which you operate. It can cloud your thinking and affect your choices, and it is often the cornerstone of who you are as a person. And, maybe, in certain circumstances, it can protect you. In Lenny Abrahamson’s devastating film, Room, perception is everything, and for Jack, who just turned five, perception of the world around him is his salvation — and ours, as well.

Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his Ma (Brie Larson) have lived in Room for his entire life. It is, quite literally, the only world he has ever known. His friends are the objects around them. The inanimates, named for what they are and what they do, exist for Jack as participants in his short life: Lamp, Table, Rug, Door, etc. Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), this year’s most detestable screen villain, provides for Jack and Ma, and his weekly visits occur while Jack is sleeping in the closet. I’ll stop there. The experience of the film is not one I would take from you, and Jack’s journey — his experiences and how he perceives them — are for you to experience in your own way.

Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in 'Room'
Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in a screenshot from Lenny Abrahamson’s ‘Room.’

Abrahamson has created a film, expertly adapted by Emma Donoghue from her own novel, of such great power and honesty that most viewers should be cautious. It is as small as that tiny room, but with similarly big ramifications as it explores what it means to exist, to survive, to understand what is happening and to choose to view it differently. Abrahamson handles these many themes with such grace and surety that we as audience members become comfortable, in a sort of way, as we begin to see this through Jack’s eyes. The film’s strongest moment comes from Jack’s forceful change of perspective: a gut-twisting sequence where one realizes that the story belongs to Jack and when he sees something new, it becomes new to us. It’s a jarring and emotional realization that carries the film through to the end.

As noted, this small film is bursting with powerful themes, but the performances help weave the tapestry of strength, victimization and sacrifice. The film boasts performances of equal complexity and nuance from a supporting cast that includes Joan Allen, William H. Macy and Tom McCamus. Tremblay, as Jack, is perhaps the finest, most affecting performance I have ever seen given by a child. He is the very core of the film, lending it his unique point of view and heart, and he carries it in stride. However, it is Brie Larson who gives a performance for the books. Strong, angry and nuanced, Larson’s Ma feels real on a very visceral level, fully fleshed out and complicated. When she discusses the supply lists with Old Nick, her captor, it’s unnerving at how normal it sounds — discussing money problems with one’s rapist as someone might with their spouse — and yet, this is her reality. She must survive and protect Jack, and this relationship with Old Nick is a relationship that she must endure; victimized, but never a victim. It is, in my opinion, the single best performance of 2015.

Brie Larson in 'Room'
Brie Larson gives a powerful performance in ‘Room.’

Room is not an easy film, but it is a rewarding one. The subject matter will hurt, as it should for anyone making it through life, but the film is not without its hope. As a matter of fact, it may be one of the most hopeful films in years, as it reminds us where hope comes from. Love manifests itself in ways most of us can’t possibly prepare for, and how we view that love — how it’s perceived — could very well change the way we we perceive our own lives; our choices, our needs.

Room is a film that deserves to be seen, experienced and discussed, regardless of how hard it may be to do so. In one of their more tense interactions, Jack and Ma illustrate the honesty of a story so profound as this. With rage he screams at her, “I want a different story!” and she replies, with an answer meant for us as much as him, “No, this is the story that you get!”

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