The Whole Wide World

This past week, I saw two movies. One spends the majority of its running time following the adventures of sailors out on the open ocean. One spends the majority of its running time inside a garden shed. Guess which one did a better job of exploring the characters' place in the world and how much there is still to discover? The first was Ron Howard's adaptation of the popular book, In the Heart of the Sea. The film details the (supposedly) real events of the sinking of the Essex, a boat that was destroyed by a giant whale. The story of the Essex led to Herman Melville writing Moby Dick, and like the events surrounding the sinking of the Titanic, its story has captured people's imaginations for more than a century.

If only the movie had captured the grandiosity it was going for. It's book-ended with segments of Melville (Ben Whishaw) talking to the last survivor of the Essex (Brendan Gleeson), who served as cabin boy Tom Nickerson. Tom openly admires the Essex's first mate, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), and his hero worship increases once the Essex is broken apart by the whale and the sailors must attempt to survive on the open ocean. Though some of the cinematography is pretty remarkable, there just isn't enough story. I don't know how a movie with whale attacks and giant storms and cannibalism could turn out to be dull and staid, but Howard somehow manages it.

For all its pretense of adventure, In the Heart of the Sea never got my heart pumping. Meanwhile, Room (directed by Lenny Abrahamson and adapted from a book by Emma Donoghue), had me on the edge of my seat. Room is an incredible movie, starting from its premise: Joy (Brie Larson) was kidnapped seven years ago and imprisoned in her captor's garden shed. Five years ago, she gave birth to Jake (Jacob Tremblay), so the enclosed room is the only world he's ever known. Joy reaches a breaking point and engineers various escape attempts, after which she and Jake have a whole new set of challenges to face.

I don't know what part of this movie to praise first. Let's go with the acting. Both Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are mind-blowingly good. I believe Tremblay is in every single scene, and he knocks every single one of them out of the park. Far from just having to act like a normal child, he must portray a kid who has no idea how things like telephones or staircases work, and he is absolutely believable. Then there's the story progression. In any other movie, the plot would build to the escape from the room, and assuming that Joy and Jake made it out, they'd walk off happily into the sunset over the closing credits. Room is a lot smarter than that.

Escape is naturally the most important thing on Joy's mind, but once she makes it out, what then? What's the world like for her now? How can she process the trauma of what she's been through? How can Jake adapt to a world he has no frame of reference for? Room takes on all of these thorny issues. Then there's the editing on the scenes during which Joy plans and executes the escape attempts, which are more intense and thrilling than all the scenes in Spectre combined.

With just a handful of characters and locations, Room manages to do everything well, from action to relationship drama to exploration of mental health to family dynamics to the damage of exploitative media to appreciating cute dogs. It will definitely wind up on my best-of-the-year list, and will likely garner awards chatter as well. Sometimes, the critical community and I don't see eye-to-eye on what constitutes a great movie, but in the case of Room, we're all on the same page. Go see it immediately.

In the Heart of the Sea: C+
Room: A


Post a Comment

Copyright © Slice of Lime