I was lucky enough to get to a special preview of Room (the film) yesterday at the Lighthouse, courtesy of Element Pictures. The film is, quite simply, brilliant: beautiful, unsettling and moving. During the Q & A afterwards it came up that there are people who have been afraid to read the book, knowing the subject matter. I think it’s fair to say that, until you’ve actually read the book, you don’t. This is even more true of the film.
Lenny Abrahamson couldn’t be there. This was disappointing, but probably just as well – there’d have been nowhere for him to sit (the cinema was jammed). Interviewed by Roisin Ingle afterwards, Emma Donoghue said the idea for the novel came from the Fritzl case in Austria (2008). Listening to the story as it broke, she thought: but motherhood is often like being in a locked room. There are days when you pour everything you have into it, it’s all used up, everything you have –and it’s still only 6.30 in the morning.
Before she was approached by Lenny Abrahamson – who set out his vision for the film in a 10 page document that, she said, is pretty much exactly how the actual completed film is – her fears for it included that it would be voyeuristic or there’d be violent rape in it. So she started writing the screenplay before the book was published – she had a feeling there’d be interest. She wanted Old Nick – the kidnapper – to be boring and ordinary, even dull. She referred to the phrase coined by Hannah Arendt during the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the banality of evil. This is brilliantly realised by Sean Bridgers. The story is not about Old Nick, it’s not his story in any way; she didn’t want to give him the planning or the motivation, a back story or a big dramatic incident.
The film is in no way voyeuristic. If anything it underplays the usual kind of drama that goes into classic crime films – it’s not a crime film, although it stems from a crime. It’s a film about parenting, and about love. It’s not schmaltzy either. I’d like to go back and watch it again, if only to look at all the parts where you think you’re about to veer off into familiar territory and the film resists that and holds you instead to the intense, vibrant, difficult core that is restorative love. It doesn’t make it easy. All of the characters are extraordinary. The tense dynamics of return are acknowledged and they were brave enough to leave some of those wounds open. The expansion of the role of Ma’s mother (a subtle, strong performance by Joan Allen) adds layers of meaning and complexity to the story. The grandfather and step-grandfather (William H Macy, Tom McCamus) wonderfully extend that complexity and depth to fathers. Brie Larson is extraordinary, Jacob Tremblay is a revelation. There is a cameo role by a police officer (Amanda Brugel) that is nearly a film in itself.
So here I’m at risk of turning you off with superlatives. I’ll stop, after I say two things:
*Go and see this film, it’s not at all what you expect.
*There is a Canadian hospital room that deserves its own billing (no pun intended). I wanted to send everyone who is in any way responsible for the HSE there (and yes, I’m looking at you, too, Mary Harney). Not to stay, oh no. Just to see how things might be done. I couldn’t help thinking, during the hospital scenes, about our own mess, and what would happen to a mother and child in similar distress if their story happened here.