Typically, I like to discuss newer films around the time that they are released as most of the audience at Celluloid Cinema can then go out and see them while they are still fresh and relevant in society. However, as we sit through April waiting for the next wave of summer blockbusters, it seems every day I am still thinking about the direction of Lenny Abrahamson’s film, Room, that at this point came out over four months ago. When I initially went to go see the film I did know anything about it, in fact the only reason that I went to go see the film was because of the several Academy Awards that it received. For those of you familiar with the plot of the film, this hard to watch story was not what I was expecting as I sat down in the theater with my popcorn. While the heart-wrenching story of a mother trying to escape from captivity with her son is enough to engage any audience emotionally, the first half of the film also affected me physically in a way I do not think I have ever experienced in a film before.
The goal of any director is to portray a story in a way that allows the audience to ultimately understand the theme of the film, whether this is accomplished through how they frame the characters, use color schemes, or sound, every element that we see in a film is there to make the audience enter some sort of emotional state. Obviously this is a difficult task as it is difficult to decipher what will trigger an emotion from the audience. Nevertheless, it is possible, as evident over the last century almost anyone of the planet can name a plethora of films that have affected him or her emotionally. However, there is a more limited group of films that is able to affect the audience physically. Most of these films are slasher films that rely on shock value or action films that can take the audiences to wide-open places such as in the sky or battlefields. The reason for this is because mentally humans can be distracted and zone off into a film, however there is always the physical feeling they have that reminds them they are in a large wide open theater with dozens of strangers. The real difficulty in physical manipulation is finding a way to put the audience in a small compact private space to evoke a feeling of claustrophobia when films are usually viewed on wide-open theaters. The reason that Room still is in my mind daily this far after its release is because it is able to accomplish just this.
The first half of the film is set in one single room that is the size of a tool shed and also the place where the main characters, Joy and her son Jack, have been forced to live for several years. Emotionally, the audience can feel bad for the characters for being detained, however most of the audience has no way to really comprehend what it is like to be kept in such a small space especially when they are sitting in such a large open theater. This is where Abrahamson’s excellence shines as he makes the creative decision to not use a large set and try to make it appear small on camera but instead actually use a tiny set and place the camera in unconventional places, such as in the floor, to capture how cramped the room really was. As a result, when the viewer watches the film they themselves begin to feel claustrophobic, as they are not use to seeing such a small set used in a film. While this seems like such a minute detail that would not have a large effect on the audience, the idea of film manipulating your thoughts through your subconscious is something that has been documented by film theorists for nearly one hundred years. As I watched the film myself, I began to feel claustrophobic and the need to move around in my seat as the feeling of not being able to move freely started to overcome me and made me panic in the same way Joy does when her captor abuses her.
If you have not seen the rest of the film please read with caution, but in the second half of the film, once Jack escapes the shed, this is when the audience is truly able understand what has been done to them at the beginning of the film. Every exterior shot that is seen in the escape sequence captivates the audience as they have been yearning to see outside for the whole first half of the film. In doing this the audience is given the feeling as if they have escaped the same imprisonment as the main characters. Ultimately, what this allows for is not only the feeling that these fictional characters are life like but also friends who have overcame the same level of adversity.
Needless to say, Room is much more than just another film; it is truly an experience that makes one understand the freedom that they have in life without having to actually go through the real traumatic situation that is presented in the film. The way in which Lenny Abrahamson directs the film shows the true power that a director can not only have over a film but its audience while Abrahamson already had a compelling story to depict the extra step he took in his execution really provides a unique level of immersion. While after reading this it may be hard to go into the film without looking for how it makes you feel claustrophobic, still go watch it as the story itself and the acting performances are enough on their own to warrant two hours of your time.