I saw Room in the Paris Theater in Midtown Manhattan; it played to a packed audience of boistrous industry types. Everyone was distracted and distractable until the lights went down, after which we spent two hours together in rapt silence. Nobody chatted, but almost everyone cried; a woman directly behind me spent more or less the entire film trying to snuffle away a steady drip of snot, to no avail.
My thought upon leaving the theater was that what I’d just seen was a horror movie. Many of the pieces fit: a young woman, Joy, has been trapped in captivity in a garden shed for seven years. “Old Nick” (she doesn’t know his real name) kidnapped her when she was 17, and has been holding her in sexual servitude ever since. Brie Larson’s characterization of her character is terrifying. Joy used to be funny, she used to be nice, but that’s mostly gone. She hasn’t brushed her teeth or taken a shower in more than half a decade; she suffered a pregnancy and giving birth totally alone. What’s left of Joy is hard to sum up, but it’d be unwise to try.
The movie begins on her son Jack’s fifth birthday, and for a while we watch as the pair go about their daily routine in tiny Room. That’s all it’s called, because to Jack, nowhere else has ever existed. He conceives not grass, nor trees, nor anything else that doesn’t include the items available to him in the shed, which he touches lovingly in the morning with a sweet added greeting. “Good morning, lamp. Good morning, rug.” The movie is told from Jack’s perspective, so we follow along as he hides in the closet while his mother is assaulted by Nick; we gaze up in bewilderment at what Joy insists is a leaf, frozen against the pane of the single skylight.
Jacob Tremblay, who was born in 2006, plays Jack. Because Jack has never had a haircut, for most of the movie Tremblay bounds around with long, slightly wavy brown locks that I could only describe as Titian. He’s beautiful and wise and pure in the way that children on screen often are, but in these particular circumstances, he feels like a miracle.
The creeping terror conjured from Room stems not from Jack’s rapist father, but from the unceasing confusion and disassociation that Jack feels throughout the story: he’s challenged to abandon everything about the world he ever thought to be true, forced suddenly into the fundamental element of growing up. Without giving too much away about the plot, I’ll say that the moment that scared me most took place back in Joy’s childhood bedroom, which her parents have (of course) kept perfectly preserved. The camera pans over pink walls covered in torn-out pictures from fashion magazines; a large bed with a fluffy comforter. It’s all very normal and girlie. Then, suddenly, on the wall there’s a poster with a design I’d recognize anywhere: the cover of Radiohead’s OK Computer.
It was the detail that finally made me cry, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it when the movie was over. I remembered how Jack and Joy save each other over and over again; how the only way to survive in this world is with help. Once I got home, I sat in my bathtub and listened to the album: “Breathe, keep breathing / Don’t lose your nerve / Breathe keep breathing / I can’t do this alone.”
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