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  Room How To Save A Life
Year: 2015
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Stars: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen, Tom McCamus, William H. Macy, Cas Anvar, Wendy Crewson, Amanda Brugel, Joe Pingue, Randal Edwards, Justin Mader, Kate Drummond
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Today is somebody's birthday, and he is five. But Jack (Jacob Tremblay) is no ordinary little boy, and not in a good way either, for he has spent his entire life in the same small room with his Ma (Brie Larson), and knows nothing of the outside world aside from what he sees on the small television their captor Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) has provided for them. At least Ma can promise him a birthday cake, which they prepare with what meagre ingredients they are allowed, but when the time comes to eat it, Jack is upset that they do not have any candles for Old Nick would not permit them to make fire or do anything that would potentially harm him. The boy is inconsolable, but what can he do? He and his mother are effectively trapped.

Definitely not to be confused with The Room, the travesty of cinema that picked up a cult following thanks to its sheer dreadfulness, this was the film that secured Brie Larson her Oscar for what amounted to one of the most affecting performances of its year. However, technically although it was the Best Lead Actress Academy Award she picked up, she wasn't actually playing the lead character, for that duty went to Jacob Tremblay who was in just about every scene and whose Jack was given point of view camerawork for many of those sequences, to underline we were seeing the world through the eyes of someone whose experience was limited to say the least. The plot may have been simple, but the reactions and behaviour were anything but.

In the script by Emma Donoghue, who adapted her own novel, the mood may have been realistic but the narrative harked back to fables and tales of the ancient world where you could imagine Ma as a Rapunzel figure who had been raped by her kidnapper and given birth - Jack's the one with the long hair, however. Donoghue claimed there were Biblical references here too (the villain wasn't called Old Nick for nothing), but it held more substance as a fairy tale that judged the implications of how those figures from those old, old stories would be in the modern society, and with any luck found a positive in what appeared to be an overwhelming negative. Against the odds, under the guidance of director Lenny Abrahamson, they dug deep and revealed enough humanity to give us hope.

Not from the abductor, it had to be said, who represented all that the world presented as evil and controlling; though we didn't get that much insight into his psychology we had enough to perceive his essentially vile self-justification for abusing his victims, as if he was doing them and everyone else a favour by keeping them cowed and unable to fight back against such powerful oppression when it was all for his own satisfaction: he returns to the room every evening to rape Ma, which she has no choice but to go along with, and now she has a son she has to seriously think about his safety. After all, if Old Nick has no compunction about sexually assaulting her, what's to stop him turning his attentions to the boy? It's a question that Ma never expresses in so many words, but we can tell is looming horribly in the back of her mind.

This makes it all the more imperative that they both escape his clutches, but after seven years locked up it will take some desperate thinking to come up with a solution. Whether she does or not was not perhaps in much doubt as no matter the skill of the performers and crew a whole two hours on one set would have taxed them and the audience to breaking point, and therefore an even more punishing watch than it already was. What you had to ask, indeed what Ma had to ask, was how could she face the world after what she had done, never mind what had been done to her: had she made the correct decisions, could she have gotten away sooner, or even before she was impregnated? The conclusions to those were very much tempered with the benefit of hindsight, and we get the impression she is being judged, as does she, which leads to yet more heartbreak in Larson's keenly felt depiction of struggling with trauma, matched by her younger co-star. There wasn't a wrong note sounded by any of the cast, but those moments where after the ordeal someone actually behaves decently and offers a word of kindness brought out that optimism that could mean the difference between life and death; even a quiet "I love you" would speak volumes. Music by Stephen Rennicks.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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