I have not seen the performances of Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlotte Rampling, or Saoirse Ronan, so I can’t say this performance by Brie Larson is the “best” of 2015. What I can say is that it is definitely Oscar-worthy. She totally shines, as does her young co-star, Jacob Tremblay.
The idea was inspired, I assume, by the ordeals of women like Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, kidnapped and held for long periods of time. It’s taken from a novel by Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the screenplay. (She features prominently in the extra material on the DVD, something a bit unusual for a writer. She seems to have been deeply involved in every aspect of the movie, right down to the set decoration of Room.)
The character known as “Ma” was abducted seven years ago and locked up in a 10×10 garden shed. It is soundproofed, steel-doored, windowless, and virtually escape-proof. She is raped at will by a man whose name she does not even know, calling him only Old Nick. Two years into the horror she bears a child. When we join them it is his fifth birthday. He has never seen the outside world except though a small skylight. They have a television, and his ideas of “reality” are severely skewed. He can’t really distinguish between real people and cartoons, and is dubious about this whole notion of there being anything at all beyond the walls of Room. This takes up just about half the film.
It won’t surprise you to learn that they escape. I won’t tell you how, except to say that it’s ingenious, perilous, and go-for-broke. And that is where a normal movie would end, I think. But we’ve still got half the movie to go, and now it gets even more interesting. I’m not surprised to see that the boy has a lot of trouble adapting to his new, infinitely larger world. But Ma does, too. Seven years is a lot of time to spend in a 10×10 cell, and in a way it might be even harder for her to return to the life she knew, since adults are a lot less adaptable than kids. To me, it is this part of the film that lifts it from being just a scary (though quite good) thriller. It is certainly one of the best movies of the year.