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Monthly Archives: January 2016

How to make a Christian movie without embarrassing God.

ChristianMovies

Friends, Romans, Moviegoers, I come not to bury Christian movies nor to glorify them. I am here to discuss how they can be made better. I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention but since 2014 there has been a massive bumper crop of Christian movies, that is, those aimed at an Evangelical Christian audience. Personally, I’m all in favor. I believe in diversity, and I believe that everyone should have movies that speak to their own beliefs, but I think the Christian audience deserves much better than what they’ve been given.

Recent complaints over the lack of diversity in Hollywood gave me a lot of time to consider this crazy medium that consumes my life. Last week I wrote that the best way to embrace diversity was not to change the Academy Awards, but to change the industry itself. This is only in consideration of the fact that motion pictures are the most powerful artistic medium that mankind has developed. It’s the most important of the mass arts because it allows us to be enveloped in other cultures, other means of living that we in our daily lives may not experience.

I’ve seen diversity come and go, with movies aimed at the Black audience, Asians, Hispanics and, in the last 25 years, a positive portrait of the LGBT community. Therein, I believe that the Christian audience deserves to see themselves and their beliefs on the screen as well. But I am trouble by what are they being given? For the past three years, there has been a boom in Christian-themed movies as they seem to be rolling out with the same output and ferocity as horror movies but they are the movie of such bad quality in writing, acting, directing and production that one might believe that half of these movies were filmed in someone’s back yard. And that’s before we get to the issue of The Message. When they get to The Message, it always seems to be presented as pompous, judgmental, pretentious, sanctimonious and exclusionary. The message is one-sided and that’s a problem.

Let’s look at a few:

God’s Not Dead
Here is the most extreme example of a Christian movie that didn’t play fair. Here was a movie that elicited the idea of Christianity vs. atheism to the point of being offensive. Gods Not Dead was a multi-character study of several people, both believers and non-believers, who clash over several days. Yet, at its center was the story of a college freshman who is asked by his atheist Philosophy professor (played by Kevin Sorbo) to sign an agreement stating “God is Dead” so that any questions of the All Mighty would be taken off the table and out of the class work. When the kid refuses, the professor demands that the student put together a presentation proving the existence of God. Failure to do so results in a failing grade.

The problem was that God’s Not Dead was so weighted to the Christian point of view that any other objections or discussions were unable to enter the room. Every Christian character in the movie was seen as a serene and beautiful saint. Meanwhile everyone who was a non-believer was a mean-spirited, loud-mouthed jerk. The movie sectioned off all of its characters into one of two camps. The movie brought about the notion that God exists but did so with blunt force. No measures of love or understanding were allowed to enter the picture.

Heaven is for Real
Less ferocious, but still just as unbalanced was Heaven is for Real based on the supposed true story of Todd Burpo, whose 4 year-old son Colton claimed that he died briefly on the operating table. Fine. Sounds like a nice story. But any measure of mystery given to this idea was beaten out of the movie. There are no challenges, no discussions, no ideas one way or another. The movie nails the mystery to the wall as absolute, unbending truth that, YES!, this kid DID DIE and that nobody anywhere can question it.

Mom’s Night Out
This, I think, was suppose to be the Christian answer to “The Hangover” dealing with four harried mothers who decide to take a girl’s night away from screaming kids and overgrown man-child husbands. In good hands that might have been a workable idea, the problem is that these ladies are clearly suffering from anxiety issues, hyper-tension and at least one case of near psychological meltdown. The problem is that the movie dismissive of these things and believes apparently that the best way to deal with mental issues is to calm down and take a dose of Vitamin Jesus. I’m not being dismissive, but I came away from the movie concerned for those involved that religion was being heaped upon them for problems that desperately needed professional help.

Old Fashioned
Here was supposed to be the Christian answer to Fifty Shades of Grey, the story of a reformed ladies man who is so afraid of his own actions that he refuses to stand in the same room with a woman that he’s not married to. It is suppose to rekindle an older, simpler form of courting but it only succeeds at making the guy weird and off-putting. It’s a gimmick that is suppose to seem noble but it comes off as just plain creepy.

Son of God
This probably doesn’t count, but basically this was a big screen adaptation of one part of The History Channel’s series “The Bible” – the Jesus section. Fine. The problem is that it still felt like a segment of that series. It purports to cover the life of Jesus Christ by following the same chopped up narrative structure as the series – that’s not good news. What you get here are a series of highlights of the most important moments in Jesus’ life: He heals the sick, raises the dead, feeds the multitudes, walks on water, gives inspiring sermons and gets under the skin of the Romans until they crucify him. We learn nothing new about Jesus. We don’t approach him. We feel at a distance. We see the events, but never get close to man.

There are other examples but these seemed to be the most extreme.

All of these movies have the same problem. They are dismissing discussion in favor of sermonizing. There is only one point of view and that point of view belongs to those who believe. There are no considerations, no ideas, no points to ponder. There’s no thinking here and that seems to come from the idea that the filmmakers are almost afraid to challenge their audience.

If you’re going to make a Christian movie, chances are you have a point of view. That point being that God is the great architect of the universe; the teachings of Jesus are flawless and any other path through life is fruitless, sinful and a sure-fire pathway to Hell. No one can argue with that, everyone believes in his or her own way. The problem is that these movies leave nothing for the average viewer. These films are made with the message already beaten into the film with a sledgehammer and with no doors or windows left open for debate or discussion.

This is the wrong approach.  Christian-themed movies should illicit that same function as religion, to enlighten and to inform, not just to those who occupy the pews, but more importantly to those who don’t. Christian teachings should be a vessel of instructing the best way to live a good life constructively within the word of God. It should be an instruction. The problem with most Christian movies is that are used a blunt instrument, availing Evangelical Christians as beatific saints and atheists as angry and unhappy philistines whose chief interest is to gnash and snarl at those who have found a life in Christ. That’s not reality. If you portray the believers as heroes and the non-believers as villains, who really are you speaking to?

So how best to fix the problem? Well, first of all (Please!) send the filmmakers to film school so that they can learn how to better their craft. The latest crop of Christian movies have been terrible on a base level of production, writing, directing and acting. They maintain the kind of production value that you would find from an old TV sitcom. You can spread the good word, but you have to make a film that has, at the very least, some kind of artistic merit. Look, we dress up for church because we want to look good in his house, right?  Shouldn’t movies that glorify him look their best too?

Also, the subject matter needs to be handled much better. Sermonizing is an easy way to get believers into the theater but what does it teach them? Christian films should challenge, they should provoke, they should ask questions. They should inspire discussion. That’s what great movies do, they get our brains working by laying a foundation of questions and issues and letting us fill in the blanks. The best films with Christian messages or overtones do so in an indirect way; The Passion of the Christ, Chariots of Fire, Tree of Life. They express the belief in God and the needs for a faith-based life but they do it indirectly so that the message comes to you through thoughtful observation.

So how could they be made better? Well, it’s simple, stop bashing the audience over the head or shoveling messages that are provided only to draw an ‘amen’ from an already faith-based audience. Doing so pushes the non-believers out of the room. Here are some suggestions.

Instead of Gods Not Dead being about a Christian reforming an atheist. How about a movie in which they enter into a discussion that leaves both with their beliefs but understanding of why each other thinks the way they do?

Instead of Heaven is for Real slapping us in the face with stone-cold facts about God’s existence, how about the mystery of this little boy challenging people’s perceptions of what they think about the after life?

Instead of Moms Night Out being about psychological problems being addressed through church instead of therapy; how about a movie portrays these women being guided through therapy and also incorporating their Christian faith.

Instead of Old Fashioned being about a creep who is pathologically afraid of woman, how about a movie about a Christian couple who meet and get to know one another?

Instead of Son of God being a patch-job of the red-letter moments of Jesus’ life, how about a movie the really explores what Jesus was going through emotionally? Let us get to know him as a man so that we can feel comfortable with ourselves just as he did.

I’m saying that there need to be considerations, thoughts, ideas so that Christian films won’t seem so exclusionary. Putting these ideas into play, suddenly Christian-themed films would have something to say. They would be able to say something vulnerable and honest and open people’s minds to what God has been trying to tell us for 2000 years. His message is powerful, and the medium of film is the most powerful artistic medium that we have. It’s time we started using it in a more efficient and educational way.

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Posted by on 01/31/2016 in Blog

 

Movie of the Day: Ben-Hur (1959)

BenHur

Ben-Hur is a big movie. Really big. Epic. Tremendous. It’s the kind of oversized, overproduced montobulous epic that made Hollywood’s Golden Age so glorious. So, why am I not all that crazy about it? Everything is here. There’s a bravura sea battle, that great chariot race, over-the-top performances by Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd and Jack Hawkins. It’s all here, but revisiting the film recently I couldn’t overcome the feeling that for long stretches, it tends to drag.

No one at the time would have agreed. Ben-Hur cleaned up at the box office that year and made an equally massive sweep of the Oscars, winning 11 awards, more than any picture in history, a record that would stay until Titanic equaled it 38 years later. Fittingly, and not surprisingly, the only award it didn’t win was for screenplay, which didn’t get a nomination.

Ben-Hur is one of those movies that people like to on general principal. The proof is how routinely it winds up on lists of the greatest movies of all time, and I think that stature may come from the film’s epic sweep – it is a glorious film to behold. I will never say that it is a bad movie, but I won’t say that I’m likely to spend an evening with it.

I don’t hate the film; I just find that it doesn’t rise to greatness. Possibly with an hour or so cut I could start to enjoy it more, but the other night I had to strain to keep from reaching for the remote when the narrative started to repeat itself. For me, the movie is like eating a plate of broccoli – it is good for me but I’m not having it for a midnight snack.

Like all big epics from Hollywood’s golden years, Ben-Hur tells a simple story inside an enormous canvas. It’s the story of a Jewish prince who gets screwed over by his Roman friend and becomes a slave only to come back years later to get his revenge. That isn’t much on which to mount a three-hour movie, and BOY can you feel it taking it’s dead-easy old time getting there.

I don’t know, maybe it’s the experience, maybe it’s watching it on television and not on a big screen. Every experience has been the same. I’ve seen the movie at least three times in my life and entering into it, I always have hope that the grandeur will envelope me, but then I inch into the second hour and I need a break. Ben-Hur is just a movie I have a hard time warming up to.

 
 

Movie of the Day: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

1991-AnthonyHopkins

Did The Silence of the Lambs deserve an Oscar for Best Picture? I find that the answer to that question varies with my mood. At times I think about its five-punch victory at the Oscars and I am proud of the Academy for taking a year out to honor a popular commercial entertainment. At other times I watch the film and I fail to find anything really Best Pictury about it. What is the achievement here? What were the points that made it the best out of 250 films that Hollywood made that year.

I think the answer eventually lies in its legacy. After 25 years, I think that this is probably the most screened of the year’s Best Picture nominees, and that’s in a list that includes Beauty and the Beast and JFK (nobody watches The Prince of Tides or Bugsy anymore). I say that because of these films The Silence of the Lambs seems to be the one that turns up the most on television and seems to be the one that people are willing to pop in on a lazy evening. It is the one that you hear more people talk about.

I realize that I’m creating a space for debate by suggesting this, but I honestly believe this to be more of crowd favorite than the other pictures. It is the rare Best Picture winner that was a popcorn movie and not an artistic statement. Plus, it had Anthony Hopkins playing a villain for the ages. Of all of his great work this is the role what will be on his headstone.

So, does the movie deserve the mantel as Best Picture? Hard to say. It is certainly a great example of a writer (Ted Talley) and a director (Jonathan Demme) giving life to a worn out genre. The uneasy human connection between Foster’s FBI agent and Hopkins’ lip-smacking cannibal is the film’s center – and the thing that is normally bungled up in this genre. Yet, I’m inclined to think that if you take Hopkins out of this movie, you don’t have much left. He’s the lynch-pin, the main attraction if you will. Demme created a great circus freakshow and Hopkins in the main attraction.

 
 

Movie of the Day: Amy (2015)

Amy

I have, for a long while, been critical of modern music which to these 40-plus year-old ears often sounds like the same song with the same message sung to a different tune. The subject matter treads the safe waters of romantic proclamations and freak-o mating habits with barely a hint of the person behind the lyrics. Not so with Amy Winehouse whose music often played as a Greek chorus to whatever was happening in her life. Yes, we got powerful music, but most refreshing is that the lyrics were absolutely her.

Asif Kapadia’s extraordinary documentary Amy is neither exploitation nor hagiography. Nor is it the safety net like recent pre-packaged so-called documentaries about Katy Perry or One Direction. This is a movie about a person, an extraordinary talent whose rise to fame was beset by personal and emotional problems that cut her life short, forcing her into the infamous “27 Club” that small list of performers that includes Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain whose candle burned out when they all reached the age of 27.

Though there are tense moments that suggest the oncoming tide, Amy is much more than just a work of foreshadowing. We see the progression of a pretty teenage girl whose famous persona blooms before our very eyes. As the documentary opens, we catch up with the singer as a teenager seen through grainy home movie footage at a birthday party. There she is, before the makeup and the hair that defined her onstage persona as the camera catches her in an impromptu rendition of “Happy Birthday.” What comes from her, even in that moment of silliness, is a voice that seemed to be channeling the great R&B artists of another time. We can hear a lot of Billie Holiday, Etta James, Nina Simone, but always with a quality that was uniquely hers. She had a voice that was ready for the world, but as we follow her journey through this film we start to wonder if she was ready as well.

Amy follows this pretty Jewish girl born in Southgate London with a gift bestowed by God, contained in a personality that was all too human. I admit I knew the voice but I never really considered the person behind it. Through startlingly private home movie footage, we catch Winehouse through the years as success finds her all too quickly. Her personality reveals a young woman with the heart of a lion, bound up in a girl whose teenage insecurities were still lurking about. Britney may have bellowed that she was “Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” but Amy seemed to be living it. We can always see in her eyes at times a determination to make something of herself, but always behind it is the fear that she may not get there.

Her great achievement was that she managed to carve out a persona and a voice that were all her own. All through the film we see unguarded footage of the singer as she rises from her London neighborhood to capture the imagination of the entire world. Dotted throughout that journey are stopovers to the songs she was working on at the moment, always caught in the moment, they commented on her situation. When she is struggling in her relationship with her boyfriend she wrote “Back to Black”; when alcohol began to consume her life, she wrote “Rehab”; When she was lonely after a breakup, she sang “We’re Still Friends.” It was all very personal, very confessional. It draws you closer to what was in Amy’s heart rather than what was in her manager’s business plan.

Yet, the most refreshing thing about this movie is that it has it both ways with Amy Winehouse. It is neither sainthood or demonology. We see that Winehouse was the sealer of her own fate, and that her drinking problem was allowed to continue long after it should have been addressed. We see that Winehouse, and her promoters kept their eye on the prize rather than on her health, pushing her into concert dates rather than dealing with a problem that should have been dealt with. In a scene that might have been played for grotesque effect in a bio-pic we see that early in 2011, Amy is forced to cancel her European tour much to the anger of her fans. They don’t know, of course, that the singer is living on borrowed time.

It is refreshing, however, that the doesn’t close on that sour note. The end of the movie features Tony Bennett, her idol, eulogizing Amy’s music and her spirit. Again, it’s not sainthood, just a reminder not to focus on the tragedy of her final days but the spirit of the music she left behind.

 
 

Movie of the Day: Sophie’s Choice (1983)

1982-MerylStreep

Meryl Streep is the gold standard when it comes to film acting. When it comes to acting, it’s her world and everyone else just seems to be living in it. She’s the best actor of her generation, she’s remained at the top of her game for 38 years with over fifty films and hardly a slouch in the bunch. Therefore it surprises a great deal of people when I mention that despite 19 nominations, she has won the Oscar for Best Actress only twice.

Most recently she was rewarded for giving a great performance Margaret Thatcher in Phyllida Lloyd’s lousy, threadbare biopic The Iron Lady. That film proved that she could overcome bad material. Yet, I think the film that will be her legacy will be Sophie’s Choice, which must contain the most excruciatingly sad performance in the history of film. Streep plays Sophia Zawistowski, a Polish holocaust survivor who was not a Jew but none-the-less witness horror beyond imagining. Yet she is a woman who is happy, playful and sexy, but just under the surface suffers a thinly veiled level of pain. Around the edges of her lips, in the closed in lines around her eyes, we sense there is a buried horror in her past.

We meet Sophie, a survivor of the death camps at Auschwitz, through the eyes of Stingo (Peter McNichol) a naive young kid from the south who has designs on being a great writer. This is 1947, in the years immediately following the war and he has moved north to Brooklyn, New York where he meets Sophie, a polish immigrant living with her lover, a brash older man named Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline). Sophie and Nathan become friends and their friendship gradually begins to break down the blinders of Stingo’s adolescence. There’s a level to Sophie that doesn’t become immediately clear, but also doesn’t reveal itself all at once. We learn that she was a polish-Catholic who was thrown into a concentration camp for trying to smuggle a ham. She lost both of her children in the camp and then survived the camps herself and immigrated to the United States.

She has experienced a lifetime of hurt and pain, of loss and of sorrow, but she tries to soldier on in her life by trying to put it all behind her. Yet, erasing all of her memories won’t make them go away, they still reside within her. Look at the way her makeup whitens her face, as if the experience has left her a ghost of her former self. Her voice is very sweet but her speech seems somewhat cautious as if telling stories about those experiences are too difficult to put into words. What I intuit from Sophie, whose present life has very few walls as she drinks and takes up with a lover, is that she spent so many years having to watch her step and keep herself within a small confined space that now she simply lives at will.

In her former life, in the death camps, she had to watch every move, every syllable, every motion. One of the best observances in the film is during one of the flashbacks in which she and a fellow inmate use the Auschwitz Walk, walking through deep areas of mud but trying to only step in the footprints of the people who have gone before. Observe how that scene connects to later scenes in which she is carefree and dances at will but when she is frightened, her footsteps are very small.

It may have seemed more rational to simply tell Sophie’s story through Sophie’s eyes without the narrative of Stingo’s growth from callow youth to a young man who, and how this experience makes him a better writer. But I think we need that understanding to bring her story to the surface. What happens to Sophie in the end is only fitting because her life in the wake of the holocaust was more or less meaningless except in it’s relation to Stingo’s understanding of human nature. There’s nothing left for her and finally, in the end, she has found some peace.

Much of this review is reprinted from my site “Armchair Oscars.”

 
 

Movie of the Day: Thale (2012)

Thale

It is safe to assume that Elvis and Leo do a job that few people could stomach.  They clean up crime scenes.  After the bodies have been removed, they clean up the pools of blood and bits of human remains that litter the scene.  It’s not a pleasant job but somebody’s got to do it.  Decked out in masks and bright yellow hazmat suits, they go about their business, picking up the pieces of someone else’s inhumanity against his fellow man.

From the first moment, it becomes clear that Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) is easily equipped to handle this.  Elvis (Erlend Nervold), who vomits profusely into a nearby bucket, seems less so.  From this unappetizing scene, we get the feeling that Thale will be a movie about what these guys do for a living.  Indeed, following their day to day routine might have been fascinating, but admittedly hard to stomach.  Yet, we soon find that we’re wrong.  Thale is an odd, mysterious and somewhat beguiling supernatural thriller from Norway that is built on mood and atmosphere and suspense made up of things that we learn along the way. It is a relief to find a movie this quiet and moody when so many thrillers fall back on the standard of jack-in-the-box terror.

In a series of creepy images banded with effectively melancholy music, the next scene reveals quick-cut elements that we only understand later.  Leo and Elvis find that their next job is to clean up a crime scene that reminds us, uncomfortably, of Buffalo Bill’s lair in The Silence of the Lambs.  Waiting for a professional team to show up, Elvis begins to poke around.  Something in the way this house is laid out seems to be more than meets the eye.  Leo urges him not to go snooping around, but Elvis’ natural curiosity gets the better of him.  A small cold filthy room reveals jars of liquids, strings of dim lights and a bathtub filled with milky water invites investigation, though a more cautious individual might have not have proceeded any further.

From this point, I may discuss certain plot points.  So if you want to see the movie cold, you may want to stop here.

What he discovers isn’t all that unusual.  Beneath the milky water is a naked girl who seems to have been there for some time.  She is alive, but terrified.  She doesn’t speak, but an old tape recorder reveals that her name is Thale (Silje Reinåmo).  What Elvis comes to understand is that she is more than a victim.  This room is more than a torture chamber, and her reasons for being in this location reveal that she is possibly not suppose to exist. Neither, by the way, is whatever is skulking around outside.

It would be cruel to reveal what happens next, but safe to say it isn’t what we expect.  This isn’t one of those movie with screaming victims and cheapo shocks.  It is the kind of movie where the thrills come from what the characters discover for themselves.  Elvis and Leo have stumbled upon something that is possibly bigger than both of them.  Holed up in that room with Thale, something else manifests itself, something else that isn’t suppose to exist.

What is even more interesting is what we learn about Elvis and Leo along the way.  In just a few tiny passages of dialogue, Elvis and Leo become full-blooded people, not just pawns to be chased around by a boogeyman.  It is curious to see a supernatural thriller like this that takes a few seconds to give its characters a bit of dimension.  They aren’t fully-realizes souls but they have lives that we can imagine exist apart from their predicament.

Having recently sat through the halfwit (not to mention boring) nonsense of Fede Alvarez’s remake of Evil Dead, this movie comes as a breath of fresh air.  While it isn’t a perfect film, Thale exudes a measure of tension and grounds its story in reality before revealing the supernatural forces that are present.  This is the kind of movie that builds slowly, giving us time to discover things.  It has the patience to reveal the story as it unfolds rather than explain everything all at once and then march us to an inevitable conclusion.  It may not be to every taste.  It moves slowly and has long passages where we wait for something to happen, but given the sad state of most other films in this genre, we welcome the chance to discover things for ourselves.

 
 

Movie of the Day: Room (2015)

Room

The first sounds we hear are breathing. Then a voice whispers “Go back to sleep.” Barely a light reaches the interior of the room and we see expressionist images that are startling; scratches on a wall, a dirty sink, a metal door, eggshells, linoleum, a tiny television set. These things are contained in a space barely 10 x 10, about the size of your average household laundry room. Within its walls resides a young woman who has been trapped here for seven years with her child who is frail and gaunt with a mop of hair so long and stringy that, until pronouns are slipped into place, I assumed was a girl. His name is Jack, and he was born here. He knows nothing of the outside world.

The basic concept of Room sounds like some kind of overzealous Lifetime Original Movie and in lesser hands it may very well have been exactly that. But here is a movie much smarter than the sum of its parts, a powerful human drama about the spaces we occupy both physically and mentally to contain the things that threaten to do us harm.

To Jack, his mother is known as Ma, but in the world she was Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) and, through dialogue,we slowly understand how she came to be kidnapped and thrown into this tiny, drafty little room for over half a decade. She is the prisoner of a man known simply as Old Nick (Sean Bridger), a sadist who gives and takes privileges that vary with his mood. Yet, this is not an exploitation movie, as one might expect. Most of Nick’s worst deeds are only spoken about and when he comes by at night to visit Joy we are – mercifully – left out of the room.

In between the horrors of Old Nick, Joy and Jack eek out a living for themselves as Joy’s maternal instincts make Jack’s health and safety her number one priority. She also attempts to give his mind a wider expanse then his physical world. She tells him fairy tales, sings songs and they watch Dora the Explorer. The central focus of Room is Jack’s vantage point on the world. He has never seen the outside world save for the images that come through on the television set and the leaves and the rain that fall onto the skylight.

From here spoilers . . .

What every other review seems willing to reveal from the very first sentence without a spoiler warning (thanks for nothing, guys) is that Room is a two act play with a heart-stopping scene of escape that – I swear – left me out of breath. Yes, Jack and Joy escape, but it is what happens next that makes this one of the best movies of the year. What follows is their readjustment to the world. Joy must reconnect, but Jack must understand the expansive world beyond just the presence of two adults and four walls. It is through his eyes that the movie’s great drama comes to life.

Jack and Joy move into her parent’s house and the adjustment to the world is more than just hugs and catching up. This is not a thriller. There are not court room scenes. There is no phony drama involving the kidnapper (he disappears from the scene rather quickly). Joy’s relations with her parents are not always warm.  We her struggle to adjust juxtaposed with Jack’s struggles to understand a world that both fascinates and frightens him. What is the world to him? He saw “room” as the entire planet, so what must he think of the larger world outside?

In spite of real-life parallels (I immediately thought of Jaycee Dugard) Room is neither a horror film nor a movie about criminals and victims. Instead it is about the confines that bond two people together. It’s about a mother and son who have been through a horrific tragedy but doesn’t make it worst by coating it with phony developments. This is the story of the human spirit and how it transcends physical boundaries, and the confines of external and internal freedoms. In the film’s first act, we deal with how Joy is able to establish domesticity for herself and Jack rather than the easy route of turning this into a shrieking horror show. “Room”, as Jack calls it, becomes a planet unto itself (until the escape, we the viewer never leave the room). And the performances make it all work. Brie Larson got an Oscar nomination for her great performance as Joy, but it is Jack that pulls the story together. Played in a beautiful performance by young Jacob Tremblay that will break your heart, he is that rare child actor who can emote without seeming precocious (he should have gotten a nomination as well).

The final scene of the movie brought me to tears, a reunion of sorts between Joy and Jack and their tragedy that allows them to close the door on their suffering. In the moment Jack makes a simple observation that pulls the entire emotional narrative right into place. It’s a perfect moment. What we are left with are reasonable questions. How to people survive under duress? What makes children so resilient? What happens to victims of horrible crimes once the phone stops ringing? How do they go on? How do they get on their feet again? Room leaves these questions and more. It is a powerful drama, thrilling, exciting, sad, joyful and one of the best films of the year.