Jacob Tremblay plays the son and as usual for a child actor, a male child actor especially, his contribution to his film was ignored by the Oscars, despite the film over performing otherwise. This in part came to his ridiculous placement as a supporting actor in the film, his SAG nomination came in that category, despite every scene being from his perspective. A rather foolish choice in every regard not only because of how absurd the idea was, but also the supporting category was far more difficult to get into than lead. If Tremblay had been campaigned in the right category he very well could have been nominated. Of course I do have the unfortunate suspicion that if he had been he would have suffered the same criticism that Quvenzhané Wallis suffered when she was successfully nominated for Best Actress for Beasts of the Southern Wild. The criticism being that somehow the performances of child actors should be ignored since the director no doubt contributed to what we see on screen, but this seems to ignore the fact that any decent director will contribute in at least in someway to every performance. If one wants to claim a child actor's performance is not worthy of an Oscar nomination or win for following the director's lead then no Oscar winning performance can even be considered deserving besides Laurence Olivier in Hamlet and Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful.
Anyway with that out of the way let's actually take a look at Tremblay's performance. Tremblay plays Jack who was born within a room that also houses his mother Ma (Brie Larson). The earliest scenes of the film depict the daily routine of Ma and Jack as well as the celebration of his fifth birthday inside the room. Now often time an impressive performance from a child is in a role that is in somewhat out of the ordinary like Martin Stephens in The Innocents or Hugh O'Conor in My Left Foot. Tremblay's work here is very notable in that in terms of who Jack is in these early scenes, is just a normal five year old boy. Tremblay in turn has to play a normal child, which is a bit harder than it sounds I suppose. Tremblay succeeds in actually making Jack a successfully cute kid in terms of his behavior around the room. His energy he brings to the role is endearing while never over playing it to the point that it becomes cloying. Tremblay captures the youthful enthusiasm in just the right fashion that makes Jack so likable yet he is no way one note. Tremblay makes Jack a kid whose easy to like but he's not perfect by any means. He never tries to make Jack some sort of odd embodiment of pure goodness which can too often be the case for kids in films.
Now a central aspect of the film is found in Jack's view of the world which has been shaped by his mother in order to stop him from seeing that horrible truth of their situation, which is that his mother is a captive and is raped by her kidnapper every night. The mother has in part created this through telling Jack that the room they are in are basically the whole world, and everything that comes from the outside is a sort of magic. Tremblay realizes this state of Jack's incredibly well as he captures the needed thrill in Jack towards the idea of being able to marvel at life, even though it's just in one Room, because his mother has built it up to be something rather special in his mind, his curiosity to see more is satisfied by making the little that the room is seem like more than it is. When his mother decides to undergo an escape plan which involves Jack being smuggled out of the room though, she must attempt to break this strict view of the world she has given him. Again I love how well Tremblay realizes the raw anger of a child having to deal with something he does not fully understand, in the moments where Jack lashes again his mother. He makes it feel only ever very real, and is effective by showing Jack's painful struggle to deal with a sudden break off from much of what he has been told since he was born.
The escape scene itself is an amazing moment for Tremblay as he finally is allowed to see what's outside of that small room. Tremblay's initial reaction is so beautifully played as his eyes are that of a boy whose whole perception has grown exponentially. He's terrific in finding that difficulty in Jack's escape by showing how every one of his senses seem overloaded in the moment. He's barely able to walk, or talk as Tremblay so naturally finds the intensity of the moment as Jack attempts to deal with reality completely on his own. Tremblay is able to find both the fear and the wonderment of the revelation. Jack does not get to deal with this for long though as he still is on task to attempt to save his mother who was left in the room. As he's instantly pressed with questions to find his mother, Tremblay is so good in showing the way Jack fights through his own terrible unease to attempt to help his mother. Eventually she is found though and Jack's journey only continues into the unknown that is the rest of the world. Tremblay does well to reveal Jack back in his comfort zone when directly interacting with his mother, though filled with questions due to all the new things, though whenever a stranger appears he reveals so genuinely the trepidation in Jack as he closes off towards his mother the one thing he can hold on from his old world.
Now in that something that needs to be noted is his pitch perfect chemistry with Brie Larson as Jack's Ma. Their mother/son bond is made something quite special by both actors due to the lack of simplicity of it all. The two have the needed warmth of course as they are so comfortable together and the years between the two can be keenly felt in every interaction. I love that the two are able to go beyond just a loving relationship though as the two are equally fantastic in finding the right tensions at times particularly when Jack insists on the fantasy of the room, while his mother insists on questioning it. The two eloquently begin to shift the relationship when they find freedom, which comes as the two have different mental struggles to deal with, Jack in adapting the open world, but Ma has to come to terms with the scars from the horrible ordeal that she endured for seven years. The two keep the needed underlying connection suggesting the unconditional love between the two, though a distance is slowly found, even before it is physically created, due to Ma no longer being just Ma, and having to deal with what happened to who she once was. This requires Jack to fully break off from what he knew life as in the room.
The film actually much more closely focuses upon Jack's adaptation to his new life, and Tremblay only continues to be absolutely remarkable in the role. He never rushes the adjustment as every moment goes by with Jack slowly breaking out of his shell created by his old life. Tremblay's performance again never allows for a simplification of the process. There is naturally Jack finding everything new where Tremblay brings the appropriate fascination in Jack as each new thing is something completely remarkable in his eyes. There are the moments we're he's just becoming acquainted with his new family, and Tremblay slowly loses the shyness in Jack through his time with them. What I love about Tremblay's work with Jack finding his relationships with his grandmother, and step-grandfather, is how genuine every single instance of their interaction is. There is only a real poignancy found in this without it ever feeling forced in the least. Again it is not all good as Jack also has to discover his mother's decaying state, and Tremblay is very moving in portraying Jack's concern particularly the heartbreaking moment where he discovers her suicide attempt. The good and the bad he goes threw adjusts Jack to the world and Tremblay's depiction earns this adjustment. Not only that he makes it a quietly powerful one to witness. Tremblay, despite the incorrect category claim, carries this film on his little shoulders. This is a performance that is a joy to watch as he so flawlessly navigates through the film which would not have worked if we did not believe in the boy, we do through Jacob Tremblay. I love Tremblay's work here that does not falter even when the film does somewhat. It's a great performance that deserves to stand right next to any adult leading turn from 2015.