As parents, we do anything for our children. Without second thought, we rearrange schedules, sacrifice needs, postpone priorities. We simply realize, when we begin this experience, that being a parent is a lifetime commitment.
In the fascinating film Room, a mother’s devotion to her son is challenged in ways the rest of us can only imagine. For years — since a young woman called Ma was kidnapped and gave birth to her son Jack — the two live in a room that measures 11 feet by 11 feet. Everything they imagine, question, fear and adore exists within these walls. With the start of each day, they make the most of what the room can offer. As years pass, they learn to rely on each other — and their vivid imaginations — to create lives that reach beyond their physical limits. This mother and son refuse to accept that the room defines their lives.
As somber as this situation may sound, the surprise of Room is how rich the life this mother and child share. This young woman — with every reason to be bitter — refuses to let her anger haunt her child’s view of the world. As portrayed by the wondrous Brie Larson, Ma places her anger and regrets in a compartment she seldom opens. When she looks at Jack, beautifully created by Jacob Tremblay, the camera only sees a mother’s belief in potential. While Brie realistically confronts the limitations, and the steps she must take to ensure her child’s future, Larson never lets herself, or the character, feel sorry for the realities. As a character, Ma only looks forward; as an actress, Larson reveals what any parent would hope to accomplish with any child.
Director Lenny Abrahamson, working from Emma Donoghue’s adaptation of her novel, makes the confines of the room painfully real. He creates an awareness of the limitations of the tiny space as he helps us see the limitless borders of the human imagination and a parent’s love. Without resorting to camera trickery, the director helps us feel we are inside that space, wanting to escape as much as these characters as we savor each game and story and tradition these people experience.
Larson commands the screen as a mother any child would hope to know. Without shining a spotlight on her Oscar-worthy moments, the actress makes us believe in how this mother creates a life for her son within extraordinary borders. Larson’s selfless approach to the role frames the character’s authentic view of motherhood. The performance commands, surprises and grabs our senses.
Sean Bridgers makes us believe the threats of Old Nick while veteran Joan Allen, as Ma’s mother, helps us see the relationships that form her daughter’s view of the world.
At moments, Room is difficult for a parent to watch, as we wonder how we might react to similar challenges. Ultimately, the film so beautifully captures what it means to be a parent, that we overlook the painful moments to savor the joyful ones. Just as we do in real life.
- Content: High. A mother’s story of persistence, daring and devotion comes to life in Brie Larson’s dynamic performance.
- Entertainment: High. As somber as the set up may be, the film thrills in its exploration of what a parent will do for a child.
- Message: High. No matter how exaggerated this mother’s situation, the lessons of her choices will be meaningful to any parent.
- Relevance: High. Any opportunity to examine what it means to be a parent, and what parents will do for children, makes a visit to the movies worthwhile.
- Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your older teenagers, talk about what parenthood can mean to parent and child.
(Room is rated R for “language”. The film runs 118 minutes.)
5 Popcorn Buckets
How movies focus on family
The power of Room reminds us what parents and children can mean to each other even in strained situations. Brie Larson’s striking performance shows us how a mother’s devotion to her son can create a life when no other support is available.
How parents choose to sacrifice for their children is a favorite topic for moviemakers to explore. Back in 1945, Joan Crawford won an Oscar for playing an ultimate movie martyr in the film version of James Cain’s Mildred Pierce. With a level of suggestion uncommon in films of the period, Crawford digs beneath the character’s glossy surface to reveal a woman who battles her tendency to be selfish and her resentment of the children who demand her attention. While Crawford’s broad performance may not be what Cain had in mind – or what Kate Winslet brought to the role in Todd Haynes’ adaptation for HBO a few years ago – the movie gives the legendary Joan a regal opportunity to command the screen. And chew some scenery.
Decades later, in the Oscar-winning Ordinary People, director Robert Redford surprised fans of the book by Judith Guest when he cast perky Mary Tyler Moore – fresh from her hit television series – as the dark mother trying to survive a son’s death. Redford clearly saw a layer of anger beneath Moore’s positive persona that he pushes the actress to reveal. Moore breaks our hearts as a woman who simply can’t love a child who needs her so much.
A mother’s regret comes to humorous life in the holiday classic Home Alone. The marvelous comedienne Catherine O’Hara paints a spirited picture of a mother who journeys from self-indulgence to self-pity to self-awareness as her son battles elements beyond his control after being left to spend the holidays by himself. Even though the film is not the mother’s story, O’Hara makes the most of her few scenes to let us know how even the most selfish mother can change.
The great Debbie Reynolds creates a precious portrait of an overbearing mother in a movie from Albert Brooks simply titled, Mother. As a man trying to find his footing in life, Brooks returns to the home where he was reared to discover the clues to his uncertainties. But Reynolds, who has moved on with her life, doesn’t hesitate to let him know when he intrudes. Together they try to discover what parent and child can mean to each other years after they each believe it is time to move on.
Reynolds’ daughter, actress Carrie Fisher, paints a memorable portrait of an ultimate stage mother in Postcards from the Edge. Whether or not the fiction reflects reality is less urgent to consider than the magic Shirley MacLaine creates as a matriarch who dares to determine what her grown up daughter needs. The Oscar-winning actress makes us laugh, chuckle and roll our eyes as a woman who redefines what it means to be look in the mirror.
As a mother trying to hold her family together, Sally Field won her second Oscar in 1982 for Robert Benton’s Places in the Heart. Field makes the most of every gesture and expression as she brings to life a woman’s determination to be there for her children despite the financial challenges of life during the Depression. The film beautifully reminds us that the people we cherish never leave our side even when we fear we may never know them again.
Field creates another memorable mother in Herbert Ross’ movie version of Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias, a simple stage production that expands into a movie that tugs the heartstrings. As a mother who battles her independent daughter – well layered by a young Julia Roberts – Field grounds the film in the stubborn kindness that we often find we need to express to our strong-willed adult children.
And Shirley MacLaine, who all but steals Steel Magnolias with her hysterical caricature of a local character, creates what may be the most memorable movie portrait of a devoted mother in James L. Brooks’ Oscar-winning Terms of Endearment. Without pretending the relationship is perfect, or making us believe in artificial confessions, MacLaine perfects the complex collection of priorities that parents bring to their children every day.
Now, with Room, a new portrait of motherhood enters the gallery. And we’ll remember this one for a long time.
See you at the movies.