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Watching 'Room' Is Exhausting And Exhilarating

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

A young woman trapped, captive in a small room, with her child born there is not a promising premise for a movie. But the new movie "Room" is based on an international best-selling novel, which was also shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, by Emma Donoghue. Film critic Kenneth Turan says the movie is well worth seeing.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: I've seen a lot of films, but I've never had an experience like the one I had with "Room." Its first half was so agonizing to sit through, I desperately wished I was somewhere, anywhere else. But its second half so completely turned me around, there was nowhere else I'd rather have been than right in the moment with this singular film. "Room's" up-and-down effects are intentional.

It's got the rare ability to give full weight to both sides of the emotional equation. It tells the story of a young woman in prison for years in a single room in a tiny shed and the young son who was born to her there and knows no other world. As the film opens, young Jack, played by Jacob Tremblay, has just turned 5 and quite proud of the fact.

His mother, known as Ma and played by Brie Larson, feels fanatically protective toward Jack, especially where the man who has imprisoned her is concerned. Jack becomes increasingly curious, asking a lot of questions. And Ma decides to fill Jack in about the nature of the world outside "Room" as she considers a possible course of action.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ROOM")

BRIE LARSON: (As Ma) Do you remember how Alice wasn't always in Wonderland?

JACOB TREMBLAY: (As Jack) She fell down, down, down deep in a hole.

LARSON: (As Ma) Right, well, I wasn't always in room. I'm like Alice. I was a little girl named Joy (ph).

JACOB: (As Jack) No.

LARSON: (As Ma) And I lived in a house with my mom and my dad. You would call them grandma and grandpa.

JACOB: (As Jack) What house?

LARSON: (As Ma) House, it was in the world. And there was a backyard. And we had a hammock. We would swing in the hammock. And we would eat ice cream.

JACOB: (As Jack) A TV house?

LARSON: (As Ma) No, Jack, a real house, not TV. Are you even listening to me?

TURAN: "Room" is directed by Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson with uncanny sensitivity and an intuitive sense of what the situation would be like. It's transcendently acted by Brie Larson. The way she has taken the deepest of dives into this complex, difficult material is little short of astonishing. Larson and her colleagues turn "Room" from the film no one wants to see to the one everyone will have to experience.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews films for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.