How Does Cinematography Tell the Story in ‘Room’?


When taking on as big a trauma as ‘Room’ does, there cannot be a softening of the edges. It must be rough, and it must cut into the audience with its honesty. And while Lenny Abrahamson held the reins in the director’s chair, he certainly allowed cinematographer Danny Cohen to tell the story with his vision. 

The Room

The place where the movie gets its namesake, the setting where it all happens- the Room itself. In this film, Room is not just a unit in a larger dwelling, rather a whole world on its own. This is Ma and Jack’s life. This is where they spend their days; where they eat, sleep, take baths and play their games. It is a marvel then, how Danny Cohen allows us to view this confined space the way they do- as a whole world. 

Only after a while, we realize it is a whole world only for Jack. Ma knows that this is imprisonment, and she knows that there is a whole world and life that she was stolen from. But having birthed a child in this little space, she makes a choice of staggering force. Jack will not know that there is a whole world outside these walls.

Room is the world, and Room is all there is. There is Old Nick, the man who comes in at night and brings them things. The man whose arrival Ma anticipates by making Jack go to sleep in the closet till he’s gone. We as an adult audience understand the horror of what is happening, of the man who has clearly imprisoned Ma, but we are allowed to view it only through the eyes of a child. A child who is maybe beginning to understand the cracks in his world. 

It is a cinematographic victory, Danny Cohen allows us to feel that Room is not a single room, but a little world defined by separate and distinct spaces. Jack has a name for everything, a place for everything, and this segmented view allows us to see their area of confinement as a world of its own. 

The Escape 

When Ma finally reveals the truth to Jack and convinces him, after much back and forth, to help them escape, it is the new territory once again. We are seeing a boy see a world he has never known. A world he didn’t know existed. We feel the shock and awe Jack experiences, even as he sees sights that are entirely mundane to us. The film allows us, once again, to enter this little boy’s wholly unique perspective. 

As Jack sits in a police car, banging the window because he wants his mother, we feel his fear and panic. We, too, don’t know of Ma’s fate. That is what makes the shot even more impactful as we see Ma appear vaguely in the distance, and then clearer as she runs towards Jack. Once again, we see her from Jack’s point of view, through the foggy car window. We watch as she wrenches the door open and sinks to the ground in gut-wrenching sobs, finally free.

The outside world is here now, and it is a different beast altogether. 

The Real World

Everything is brighter on the outside. Compared to the dreary and grimy palette of Room, the outside world is colorful, cheery, and warm. It is safe here. But to the occupants of Room, the outside world is not an easy place to find again. Ma, is Joy here. The daughter who was kidnapped and lost to the world. But she is also Ma, the young woman who birthed a child and raised him in captivity. The scars are deep, and the trauma is not of the manageable kind. 

There are serious moments of brilliance here on Cohen’s part. The shot of Jack discovering his mother’s attempted suicide, the setup of Joy’s television interview, and the framing of the moment Jack tells his grandmother he loves her, are all beautiful layers to the story and the film. 

In the final scene of the movie, however, we cannot help but tip our hats to the cinematography of the film. As Ma and Jack visit the Room for one last time, on Jack’s insistence, we finally see the entire Room. We see how tiny it is, and feel the weight of that captivity fully. Jack walks around the Room and asks if it has shrunk. Finally, Jack and Ma see Room the same way. And we finally see what she has seen for 7 years. It is haunting and terrifying but also liberating to see them say goodbye and walk out of the place that held them. 

A place that was no whole world, but a room in a shed that a cruel man owned.

Room is a 2015 Drama Thriller film directed by Lenny Abrahamson.

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Mareena Francis
Mareena Francis
Mareena Francis Parakkal is a 25-year-old writer and poet. She has written about film, people, places, and poetry across multiple platforms and hopes to continue doing so.

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