Ma (Brie Larson) and her son Jack spend 24 hours of every day inside a small space. Most people would call it a room, but they refer to it as Room. It has been Jack’s entire world and the name Room with a capital letter R emphasizes this.
As the movie opens, we see them doing what is most likely a daily routine. They have breakfast together at the table, brush their teeth and do exercises in the form of short sprints and push-ups. This day is special, however, because as Jack excitedly tells Ma, “I’m five.” To celebrate, Ma let’s Jack know they will make a birthday cake today. After cracking eggs, adding butter and all the necessary ingredients, they remove the cake from the oven and sit down to eat. Jack is immediately disappointed when he learns there are no birthday candles inside Room.
He angrily tells Ma she should ask Nick for candles for their Sunday treat. She says in a tone bot exasperated and with tempered frustration that she has to ask for things they need. Parents often say their children are their whole world and for Ma, whose real name we learn is Joy, this is entirely true. She was abducted seven years ago and has been inside Room ever since, and for the past five years has raised Jack, her son with her abductor whom she calls Nick and who brings her Sunday treats along with food and other items. When Ma gives Jack that exasperated tone, it is just one of many moments her strength is astonishing. She remembers what it’s like to have a life and she knows what the outside world holds. Jack, being born in captivity, has the luxury of believing Room is everything. He believes all the items they receive from Nick are procured through magic and travel through the TV. When a mouse scurries through a tiny hole in the wall and is shooed away through the same spot by Ma, Jack has no concept of the fact it has merely gone back outside. Ma has created a world entirely for them inside this small, drab space and the fact the is able to provide a happy childhood for her son while withholding from him the incalculable despondency she must feel at times is almost as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking.
Nick is given little screen time and this serves the story well. We see he spends time with Ma almost every night, but the screenplay, adapted by Emma Donoghue from her own novel, is not interested in exploitation. This isn’t a story of horror and mistreatment. This is a story of strength, resilience, a mother’s love of her son and the unbreakable bond they form.
Through some ingenuity and luck, they finally make their escape and Ma re-enters the world and Jack enters for the first time. At first, Joy is elated and there are many exciting moments for the two, such as when Jack asks if they can get something for their Sunday treat and is told by his mom, “There will be so many treats and not just on Sundays!”
Assimilating back into a regular life is difficult and puts a strain on both herself and her parents, as Joy worries about how Jack is progressing. There are wrenching moments as the effect of Joy’s absence becomes clearer and stress is released through fits of anger. Yet there is a tremendous amount of joy and relief. Joy smiles as she looks out the window and for the first time watches Jack play ball with a boy his age who is his friend and the excitement and happiness on Jack’s face when he gets to meet the family dog (he had an imaginary dog named Lucky in Room) is so endearing one can only cry.
The performances of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as Ma and Jack are both masterful and more believable than anything else this year or in recent memory. Room is an emotional gut-punch of a movie and one of the most remarkable works of the past five years.
Roger Ebert said, “Art is the closest we can come to understanding how a stranger really feels.” Room is a masterpiece.