This is the story you get.
Those words are how Joy quiets Jack as he yells at her that he doesn’t want to hear her explain what parts of his life are true and what parts are lies. And the truth is a heartbreaker.
Joy (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) live in a 10’x10′ garden shed, a place they call Room. For Jack, it’s the only place he’s been in his five years of life. For Joy, it’s the place where she’s been trapped for seven years. Joy was kidnapped when she was 17 from her suburban home in Ohio by a rapist, referred to as “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers), after he asked her to help find a dog. At some point, Old Nick got Joy pregnant; she eventually gave birth to Jack in the shed, and over the course of five years, she’s worked to have Jack think of this small space as the entire world, with everything they’d ever need – a bed, toilet, stove, TV, wardrobe and skylight. The only intrusion into their lives are Old Nick’s nightly visits, during which Jack is kept in the wardrobe.
Shortly after Jack’s fifth birthday, Joy realizes that Old Nick is having some financial problems. After a physical altercation soon after, Old Nick cuts the power to Room as punishment. This bit of cruelty, though, provides Joy with an idea – a glimmer of hope that, if she can pull it off, will get Jack out into the world and free long enough to rescue them both. And part of that means deconstructing Jack’s world, even if he doesn’t want to hear it.
This, by the way, is only the first half of the film.
Room is split in two, with Jack and Joy eventually managing to escape Room. They escape to the real world, a place Jack only knows from images on TV and a small glimpse through the skylight of Room. It’s where Joy believes they will be free and happy, but the world outside comes with its own perils. Once the publicity from their rescue dies down, they face a series of health and financial issues, compounded by Joy’s growing anger and depression over the people in her life moving on without her.
This is the sort of story where casting is vital, and both Larson and Tremblay are brilliant choices. Watching the two actors as they shift from the first half of the film to the second half is a revelation. In Room, Joy has grown accustomed to her role as Jack’s educator, entertainer and supporter, as well as her overly submissive role for Old Nick. Jack, meanwhile, is that kid everyone knows who thinks he knows everything he’ll ever need to know. Once they’re out, though, Jack quickly becomes overwhelmed by everything around him that’s new, while Joy rapidly loses her grasp on what it means to be a mother to Jack. Larson has already proven herself a more than capable actress with performances like her turn in Short Term 12, but there’s something undeniably powerful about the way she’s able to express a whole range of emotions with a single look. And Tremblay’s performance is pitch-perfect – it’s the kind of performance by a child that’s so rare in its authenticity.
There’s more that I want to say about Room, but part of the power of the film is not knowing too many of the details. So I’ll stop here, and simply urge you to see Room. It’s devastating yet hopeful, and powerful in a way that a review can’t do justice.