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The prison that liberates: Oscar-winning Brie Larson shows that a life in confinement can be freer than a life in liberty

When Irish director Lenny Abrahamson finished reading the best-selling eponymous novel by Irish-Canadian Emma Donoghue a few years ago, he knew he had to shoot it. At that time, he was still mostly unknown. He had directed Garage (2007) and What Richard Did (2012) but he hadn’t yet launched Frank (2014), the movie that would catapult him to fame. Frank is about an eccentric pop band led by an enigmatic creature wearing a fake head. The role was magnificently played by Michael Fassbender, who had most of the time to base his acting in physical resources other than his facial expressions. So, how would Abrahamson acquire the rights to film Room?

He wrote a letter to Emma Donoghue, emphasising his fascination with the book. He had to convince the author that he would be capable of telling the story from the point-of-view of five-year-old Jack without overdoing voice-over. In other words, he had to achieve the veracity without a narrator. He also had to prove he would shoot in very small setting without making viewers feel claustrophobic — after all the room was Jack’s and his mother’s liberating fantasy world. So he avoided easy genres techniques, and instead Abrahamson was determined to stick to the book.

The narrative recounts the story of a mother and child escaping from the captivity in which they have been held for several years. Born as a prisoner in his room, Jack (Jacok Tremblay) knows nothing of the world beyond the shed to which he and his Ma (Brie Larson) are confined. Ma was only seventeen when she was locked away to this grim place, where her only visitor is Old Nick, who is both her kidnapper and Jack’s father.

The lead actors were asked to compromise in different ways in order to achieve the results desired by the filmmaker. The charismatic child actor had to wear a wig throughout most of the movie without complaining, while Brie Larson went through a seven-month-preparation period, when she would avoid sun rays at all costs. The chemistry between Ma (Larson) and Jack had to be naturally built. Larson says at the London Film Festival premiere: “I never wanted acceptance so badly as I wanted from the kid.”

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Even if Abrahamson had promised all his best intentions to the writer and his crew, it would lead to nowhere if the movie didn’t keep the same poetry of the book, which it does. The film is considerably light and digestible despite its tense plot; Ma’s desperation and depression for being kept captive in a small room by her partner do not intoxicate the film. When the kid finally escapes, mother and son go back to Ma’s parents house, it is the time for Ma to face her ghosts. She tries to commit suicide because of the loss of the “safety” in the room. She then isolates herself again, though she is free, as she cannot handle the pressure of the media. To the public opinion, she was after all a bad mother. This gloomy reality, however, never prevails because the movie is a child’s tale, and Jack does not grab all the social complexities of his predicament.

Room is an audacious and violent story intertwined with maternal love. Brie Larson won the Academy Award for Best Actress. The film won several other awards, including BAFTA, Critic’s Choice, Golden Globe and Grolsch People’s Choice Award at TIFF 2015. The film is out now and can be seen in the best cinemas across the UK.

By Maysa Monção - 07-03-2016

Maysa Monção is a Brazilian writer, teacher, translator, editor and art performer who currently lives in London. She has a Masters Degree in Film Studies from Tor Vergata University in Rome, Italy, ...

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