Room is not an easy movie to watch. Joy, known simply as “Ma” lives in captivity, kidnapped at the age of 17 by a man known as “Old Nick,” who locks her in a shed. She gives birth to a son, Jack, and the two of them live in what they refer to as “Room.” Nick visits nightly as Jack falls asleep in a closet, oblivious that his mother has been a captive concubine for more than seven years.

Jack does not know he is in peril. He has lived in Room all of his life, and has never stepped outside.

Jack does not know he is in peril. He has lived in Room all of his life, and has never stepped outside. He can see the outside through a skylight and watches some TV, but he never makes a connection that he is part of a larger world. He has a mom who loves and cares for him, they read and play together, and Jack looks forward to a “Sunday treat,” which is usually nothing more than a necessity disguised by Nick as a reward. By all accounts, he is a content kid. And Jack is ultimately the reason why the movie has translated so well with audiences and has received an Oscar nomination for best picture.

Nick has severely damaged Joy’s psyche, body, and pride, but Jack is content and remains an innocent bystander to his mother’s horror. When Jack turns five, Joy believes he is old enough to understand their situation and she plans their escape, much to Jack’s reluctance.

When they finally do escape, the rough transition from isolation to a free and massive world takes its toll on mother and son. Joy wishes nothing more than for Jack to be free, but she becomes blindsided by the realities in front of them. Whether she is trying to reconnect with her now-divorced parents, or navigating a television interview, Joy is free but still burdened by her past.

Jack struggles to adjust as well. He has to wear sunglasses, stay away from animals, and connect with family who he didn’t know existed. His own grandfather can’t look at Jack without feeling sadness and shame; awkward adults don’t really know how to engage him.

Still, it’s Jack’s slow acclimation and sense of discovery that gives Joy a reason to live. Jack is also the saving grace of the film, providing a glimmer of hope to the audience. While Joy didn’t choose to give birth to a son, she latched on to him and resolved to give him the life that Nick cut short. Jack gives the audience not only hope for the future, but also hope that Joy will eventually make a successful reentry into society.

Brie Larson’s turn as Joy has earned her an Academy Award nomination for lead actress. The winner of the same category in the Golden Globes and a front-runner for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) lead actress award, Larson has become the breakout star of the awards season. She resists all temptation to overact and plays Joy as a woman raging on the inside but grounded by her son.

While Larson deserves all of her accolades, it’s nine-year-old Jacob Tremblay that makes Room memorable. While Tremblay didn’t receive an Academy Award nomination, he is nominated for this weekend’s SAG awards for supporting actor for his work as Jack. Tremblay’s portrayal of Jack reveals an innocent, confused, and curious five-year-old. He tries hard to grasp reality but is reluctant to leave all that he has ever known.

Ultimately it’s Jack that propels the movie from difficult to watch to an underdog story worth rooting for.


3.5/4 stars. Rated R for language and an overall disturbing premise. The movie also received Academy Award nominations for best director (Lenny Abrahamson) and best-adapted screenplay for Emma Donoghue, who wrote the novel of the same name.

All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.