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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Room is based on an intense, disturbing, award-winning novel by Emma Donoghue that focuses on a precocious 5-year-old boy named Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who lives in an unthinkable situation with his mother, Ma (Brie Larson): They're both trapped in a kidnapper's shed, and Jack was born in captivity. The movie features a great deal of suggested violence (particularly rape), as well as an upsetting scene of the kidnapper yelling at and injuring Ma. There's also an incredibly tense sequence when Jack attempts to escape from his captor and another scene in which a character is shown having overdosed on pills (she survives). Along with the violence, there's some strong language, including nearly a dozen uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. But in the end, despite their horrific circumstances, Ma and Jack have a beautiful, incredibly close relationship that's hopeful and inspiring.
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What's the story?
ROOM, adapted for the screen by the source novel's author, Emma Donoghue, is mostly a story about two people: 5-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his Ma (Brie Larson), who live together in a single room. Told from Jack's point of view, the movie makes it clear that he's used to the routine of watching TV, reading, playing, and living in a space with just his Ma ... except for at night, when "Old Nick" visits and Jack has to hide in a closet. What the audience knows that Jack doesn't is that he and his mom are Nick's captives, and they live in a locked shed in Nick's backyard. When Ma, who was kidnapped at age 17 and has been held captive for seven years, senses an opportunity for her and Jack to escape, she must convince and coach him on a plan that's both dangerous and heartbreaking. If they succeed, will they be able to deal with being back in the real world?
Is it any good?
Room is an admittedly unsettling adaptation, but it's also a beautifully acted testament to the unsinkable bond between a mother and son, whose love propels them to rescue each other. Larson gives a career-making performance as the woman known simply as "Ma" for most of the film. She and young Tremblay make a remarkable duo; Tremblay, in particular, is riveting and natural in a way that's incredibly rare for a child actor. Both actors fully embody Donoghue's literary characters -- a young woman whose life was cut short at 17 but whose child, born in sadness and seclusion, brings her the only hope, joy, and companionship possible in her situation. The desperately tense scene in which she prepares Jack and then sends him to escape from their kidnapper's claws is so anxiety-provoking that even those who've read the novel and know how it ends will feel viscerally uncomfortable until it's finally, finally over.
This isn't the kind of movie that's pleasant to watch. While not as graphically violent as war survival dramas, it's nonetheless upsetting and emotional. That the story is told from Jack's point of view is what makes both the book and the movie so unforgettable. Intelligent beyond his years yet utterly unaware of the world around him, Jack is a mysterious creature to behold, while his Ma, to any parent in the audience, is undeniably a hero for having the courage to raise such a beautiful, kind soul under such heartbreaking limits. Prepare to cry, to feel, and to cheer for Jack and Ma; this is the kind of film that stays with you long after the credits roll.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Room's implied versus overt violence. Although there isn't a lot of graphic violence shown on screen, how are violence and tension suggested? Which has more of an impact on you -- what you see, or what you don't? Why do you think that is?
Do you think Ma is a role model? What tough decisions did she make that you admire? What do you think you might do differently?
What does Ma means when she tells her own mother that if she hadn't been told to be nice all the time, she might not have been kidnapped? What are your thoughts about that statement?
How does the media portray Ma's ordeal? Why does the reporter plant a seed of doubt in Ma's mind about her decisions?
- In theaters: October 16, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: March 1, 2016
- Cast: Brie Larson, Joan Allen, William H. Macy
- Director: Lenny Abrahamson
- Studio: A24
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Character strengths: Courage, Curiosity
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Golden Globe
- Last updated: March 15, 2021
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