By Leo Manswell
Independent films are prone to production deficiencies which often lead to dismal displays of art. Room, starring Brie Larson, is the ultimate exception, as it is a film that successfully strings together a series of images that don’t reek of low budget filmmaking. At its’ core,
Room is a good story that keeps the viewer engaged through its simplicity, and satisfying spontaneity that persists throughout its two hour time span. As compelling as the film is initially, Room does have its missteps here and there, which makes one question the widespread praise and acclaim. This film tells the story of Joy (Brie Larson), a kidnapped woman, who after seven years is able to escape from bondage and seclusion with her five year old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay). Although the film’s screenplay, written by Emma Donahue, is new and original, it’s a hard sell as far as gripping premises are concerned. It truly took a visionary in director Lenny Abrahamson to deliver a picture such as this, to vast acclaim. Room is filled with innumerable subtleties and silences, and the flaw with this type of screenwriting is that it challenges the viewer to be patient while watching, as opposed to inviting him/her to be completely and utterly immersed in the portrayed world. Donahue’s script lacks a variety of color, which pose an immense challenge to the filmmakers to make what in some places may seem dull on the page, riveting on screen through editing.
While most great screenplays incorporate an array of colors and vary in pace, Room rides a steadily quiet wave for too long. It’s so good at being quiet, filling each one of it’s silent beats with meaning, that it leaves the audiences begging for more. Watching the film, the viewer naturally wants more to happen, not because of boredom, but rather because he/she has grown acclimated to this constructed world of silence, and desires to be startled by a change or shift of pace. Unfortunately, Donahue’s scripted climax lasts for a grand total of three minutes before returning to its’ template tempo. The film’s pace works against its impact as it results in an unsatisfying ending, leaving the audience thirsting for more. A great accomplishment of the screenplay, however, is through its’ incorporation of round characters across the board. In defense of the film’s singular tone, it is beyond evident that it’s quietness is not arbitrary, but rather used to reveal the mindset of these round characters. The film is filled with characters that are scripted to carry the weight of the grand circumstances wherein the world exists. For example, there’s a scene in the film where Joy tries to explain to her son that he is the result of a rape and kidnapping and that the two of them have been secluded from ordinary life for many years. However, because Jack is so young and has never known the outside world, she is unable to communicate with him the way she would like to. A frustrated Joy then receives backlash from young Jack, who thinks she’s lying. Such screenwriting from Donahue helps communicate to viewers a sense of loneliness that Joy experiences daily, despite the accompaniment of her own son.
Sound editing in a film is not always something that can be heard, but felt. Independent films have a habit of letting the air out of scenes, where all other sounds aside from dialogue, are often missing in places where it shouldn’t be. Room proves to be another exception in this field, as it is craftily mixed and not once through the film is the viewer thrown off by a fragmented connection of scenes through sound. Sound is an integral factor in connecting scenes properly so that they flow together fluidly, and the film doesn’t take on a disjointed uniformity. The Art of Watching Films describes this as invisible sound, which essentially means that the sounds that are heard in a given scene, do not only have to accompany that which appears on the screen. Instead, all sounds that
The visual design of a picture accounts for all prettified images on the screen that set the atmosphere for the film. Details of this design can grow into a rather costly figure as it requires as much focus and attention as all other elements of the filmmaking process. Room, which was shot on a six million dollar budget, conveniently had a plot line that didn’t require a vast repertoire for visual design. There was no gloss, shine, or pizzazz that the graphic designer or set decorators needed to be concerned about accommodating for, as grunge served as the overall template for the film. An interesting point to note about Room however, is that the designers didn’t illustrate the gloom and dismal situation of Joy and Jack by using dim colors, but through dim lighting. In fact, there were many bright and warm colors mixed amongst each other inside of the room. Yet, due to the absence of windows, presence of fluorescent lights, as well as the purposeful misplacement and jumbling of room objects and furniture, one automatically gets the notion while watching the film, that Joy and Jack are in an impoverished setting. Being that Room was filmed on location, there was no set built for production which helped viewers all the more feel connected to the world of the characters.
Cinematographer Danny Cohen filmed a great deal of Room handheld, which helped to set the audience as an extra character. A sound stage, brighter lighting, and dolly focused cinematography would have stripped the film of its’ authenticity. The Art of Watching Films delves into the idea that emotional state is dictated by the visual design and portrayal of a picture. The purpose of the crafting of images surrounding the actors are to evoke an emotional response from viewers, and to help them feel as though they are with the characters. Room does a phenomenal job of shifting the emotional focus using visual detail, not only through the grunge of the literal room wherein Joy and Jack are entrapped, but through the change of locations as well. For instance, when the two of them escape the room and are escorted to the hospital, bright whites come into play as the characters are now in safety. The incorporation of this white light seemingly serves as a symbol to the new and pure environment, contrasting against their former setting. Visual elements such as these are no mistake and are crucial to analysis.
Emotional restraint is talked about in The Art of Watching Films as to how it can be downplayed or emphasized to the director’s liking. In Room, such restraint is highlighted and the character’s state of mind is revealed not solely through what comes out of their mouths, but what’s brews in their thoughts as well. Nathan Nugent, the film’s editor, seemed perfectly content with extended shots on the recipients of dialogue in a given scene. The speaker and other characters who weren’t being spoken to, were given equal focus, but he/she that was receiving the dialogue were purposed to be examined by the audience. A perfect example of this is when Joy’s father, Robert (William H. Macy), attempts to excuse himself from the table as he has difficulty being around Jack, who is a walking manifestation of his daughter’s rape. Sensing this, Joy pressures her father to not only stay at the table, but to look at Jack. For most of while she is talking, the camera stays on Robert as his facade is slowly dismantled. What started out as a white lie regarding his self dismissal, is rather quickly unraveled as a gross disapproval he possesses for another character. Most impressive of Room’s film editing is that extensive dialogue is not needed to communicate the thoughts and intentions of characters. In fact, it is safe to say that in this film less dialogue and capped energy bursting through the seams of the characters’ expressive emotional state is caught on camera which should be more than sufficient enough for any audience.
Sid Armour, Room’s makeup artist, successfully managed to match the appearance of the performers to their surroundings. With the exception of Joy’s interview scene, the actors were not done up or beautified in any way throughout the entirety of the film. The male and female characters alike, reflected the same energy and semblance — tired and spent souls in need of rest.
Overall, Room is a well made independent film, but it’s hardly a knockout. While from an aesthetic point of view it deserves great acclaim, it’s entertainment value is stifled at times, due to its’ lack of depth. While the characters’ state and emotional range are steep, the plot line is less so, and not only because of its’ simplicity, but more so due to it’s lack of surprise and suspense throughout the second half. Room succeeds in the ‘quiet drama’ category if you will, and from a technical standpoint, it is of one accord. Room is an exemplification of all different filmmaking elements from the script to hair and makeup working together to construct a distinctive, false reality, appealing to some, but believable to all. Weighed on the scale of motion picture classics, Room has no place, and lacks too much entertainment value to transcend time.