As we come closer to the Academy Awards, we’ll be posting short profiles of each Best Picture nominee, attempting, in our own ways, to not only sum up what the movie is about, but why we believe it scored one of the eight coveted nominations, and why it could possibly take home the big prize come Oscar night. Enjoy!
As Ben discussed in his first Best Picture Profile of the year, we usually try to find some kind of theme to unify the Best Picture nominees, and this year, we settled on “Journey to the Unknown,” since we feel that, in one way or another, each of these films features characters struggling to come to grips with a new reality, new information, or anything that lies beyond what they already know.
It should go without saying, then, why Room falls squarely into that category, perhaps more so than any other film this year, in that this movie focuses on two people trapped in the tiniest of spaces, one of whom only finds out that the unknown exists at all just before he’s thrown into it headfirst.
Room (not to be confused with Tommy Wiseau’s The Room) is about Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a precocious boy who lives in a world all his own — specifically, the world of Room, a 150 square-foot cell occupied by just him and his mother, Joy, who is mostly referred to as Ma (Brie Larson). Ma, who has lived in Room for seven years, knows about the world outside, but Jack doesn’t, and for a while, Ma is content to let him believe that only Room is reality, while their staticky TV contains only fantasy. Soon, however, driven by love for her son and her own survival instinct, Ma talks Jack into playing dead to help them escape, and though Jack is initially overwhelmed by the outside world, he helps lead the police to Room and save his mother. Upon their transition back to Ma’s home, where they live with her mother and new stepfather, Jack adjusts as normal as one could possibly hope, while Ma becomes depressed and catatonic, even attempting suicide. The two are happily reunited at the end, returning to Room one last time (which Jack requests), before they move on with their lives and newfound freedom.
This movie is gut-wrenching basically from start to finish — within the first 20 minutes of the movie, we learn about Jack’s nighttime ritual, which goes like this: get into a cupboard, pretend to be asleep while his mother is raped by their captor, Old Nick, and then get carried out of the cupboard to sleep with Ma the second Old Nick leaves. Even more harrowing is the sequence where Jack makes his brave escape and is almost too frightened to pull it off, taken aback by how huge the world suddenly seems. Director Lenny Abrahamson, who was deservedly nominated for Best Director, masterfully shows us the massive suburban landscape from Jack’s small, frightened perspective and keeps this extended scene tense and stressful (the audience is left wondering, once Old Nick abandons Jack on the street, whether or not Ma is even still alive). Emma Donoghue, who wrote the original novel, adapted it herself, proving, once again, that authors should take control of their own film versions — Donoghue cuts when necessary, but keeps the script both touching and devastating, and both Abrahamson and Donoghue keep the little things in mind. Jack’s lack of knowledge about this huge world manifests in the small details, like not knowing how to go down the stairs or not understanding what knocking is (“The door is ticking, Ma,” Jack whimpers), which lends a deep understanding of Jack’s journey to the entirety of the story.
The performances, of course, are the clear standouts in this film. Brie Larson, who’s recently made a name for herself in comedies like 21 Jump Street and Trainwreck, is transcendent in this film, as a too-young mother who has to stay strong for her young son and who, ultimately, saves both of their lives through a combination of playing pretend and pure desperation. Jacob Tremblay, the 9-year-old wunderkind and narrator of the film, is just flat-out incredible. He manages to play cute without being cloying; he manages to play wise while still maintaining naïveté and innocence; and he breaks your goddamn heart over and over. Late in the film, he agrees to cut his borderline feral hair while Ma is recovering from her suicide attempt, and his grandmother (played tenderly by Joan Allen) gently shears his locks. Afterwards, he takes a moment; looking up at his grandmother, he quietly says, “I love you,” and if anyone in the audience doesn’t immediately dissolve into tears, then they’re probably dead inside. He’s not just an amazing child actor; he’s an excellent actor, period. (Tremblay’s Adorable Award Show Tour hasn’t hurt, either). It’s a shame he’s not nominated for an Oscar, though he did take home a Critics Choice Award for the role, but Larson, with her first nomination, is currently our clear front-runner as long as Blanchett doesn’t sneak up on her. I hope that doesn’t happen — this is Larson’s moment, and she deserves this award. She should win, and likely will.
Room is as long of a long shot to win Best Picture as any nominee could be. It’s barely grossed any money, not as many people have seen it, and it hasn’t been winning any precursors. But that hardly matters. For those who have paid a visit to Room, it’s a world and experience that they won’t forget any time soon.