This is a review I have been very excited to discuss since hearing about the book and film. The 2010 novel Room by Irish born writer Emma Donoghue is the first book I read of 2016, though I was up to the thirtieth page from reading the book in segments in bookshops before having my own copy. Honestly, the last time a book touched me in this way was reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and unlike that story, the film adaptation brings the exact same moving nature to the screen.
The book follows the lives of Jack and his Ma, who live in a ten by ten foot space that Jack knows as Room. He has been brought up to believe that Room is the entire world, and is unaware that his mother has been trapped there for seven years by the man he calls ‘Old Nick’. They have a bed, a bath and a skylight, and nothing but a TV to give them an insight into the outside world – though Jack believes TV to be not from real life. A few days after Jack’s fifth birthday, driven by the news that their captor has been let off work, Ma decides to tell Jack about the world. She plots to escape, and show her son the world he has been missing out on. Donoghue has said in many interviews that story isn’t based on any true case directly, but apparently she was inspired after hearing about the Austrian Fritzl case that emerged in 2008. One of the story’s true horrors is that it is an entirely plausible event.
The writing style is so clever, from a five year old’s perspective and without chapters. The book instead has five sections, and each of those is all ramble-y descriptions and thoughts from Jack. It’s this lack of chapters which makes the book so easy to get lost in and impossible to put down. There a few things you have to figure out for yourself as the book goes along, such as the logic behind the nickname ‘Old Nick’, and phrases such as “have some” that once clicked in your head you realise are genius.
The ending is perfect too. I found myself wondering about how the book was going to finish, how it was going the leave the story, but what she wrote is nothing short of perfect. It gives absolute closure to the story, and leaves you satisfied and teary eyed.
Obviously as such a fan of the book, you’d expect me to have my reservations about seeing the film. Strangely I really wasn’t that apprehensive about it, instead desperate to see it, though I did have to wait to see the film till after my Mum had finished the book, as once I’d read the last page I’d thrust it into her hands and demanded she read it too.
The screenplay is also by the book’s author, Emma Donoghue, so the nature and feeling of the film is totally true to the book. There are scenes missing from the book and scenes added to the film but none of it feels wrong, which is very hard for a film adaptation to achieve. The only change I’ve wondered about it the decision to make the character of Ma/Joy two years younger – in the book she was captured at nineteen, and escaped at twenty-six, but in the film this was seventeen and twenty-four. This was probably done to fit Brie Larson’s age though so I’m not worrying too much about it.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, the film brings so much emotion to the story. His direction is beautiful, from the first shot following Jack’s point of view as he looks up at the roof in Room. The film tells the whole story, but always comes back to Jack’s perspective on it, forever connecting the audience with his emotion and remaining true to the original novel. It’s also brilliantly done in the sense of capturing the moments – I knew what was going to happen, but found my heart racing throughout the escape scene.
The most stunning performance is by Brie Larson as Joy Newsome, Jack’s Ma. She plays the character to such perfection, showing her utter strength, frustration, vulnerability, and violation. The film starts with her at utter strength, saving face in front of Jack for his protection, and in front of Old Nick for her own protection. Once the escape happens she gradually changes. She doesn’t stay strong for anyone anymore, including herself. The contentment she experiences from rejoining the outside world is short-lived when things aren’t exactly how she imagined them to be. She relishes in the freedom from her captive and having personal space, but struggles with the news of her parent’s separation, and returning to a life she hasn’t lived since she was seventeen years old. There are moments that particularly highlight this: most notably the fight with her mother.
Jacob Tremblay is astonishing as Jack in the best child performance I have ever seen. He is completely captivating as a boy experiencing the world for the very first time, so entirely convincing as a little boy who hasn’t seen life outside of a garden shed he calls home. As he slowly adjusts to another life and other people we see that he will be okay, and it’s that heartbreaking sensation that makes Jacob’s performance so brilliant. The actor’s growing popularity at awards ceremonies and interviews meant I’d seen a lot of him before seeing the film, but I found myself completely forgetting that it was the same person as the long haired boy in the film.
The rest of the cast is brilliant. Joan Allen brings so much depth and emotion to Joy’s mother, Nancy, brilliantly portraying a stable woman who loves her daughter, is horrified by what has happened to her but knows she has to quickly accept it in order to help her and her grandson into the real world.
One of the complex characters is Joy’s father, played by William H. Macy. Robert struggles to deal with Jack, thinking of him not as his Grandson, but as the product of his daughter’s abuse. This obviously causes conflict between the family, and
Tom McCamus is perhaps my favourite character as Leo, also known as Steppa in the book. Leo is Nancy’s new partner, and is I think one of the most important people in Jack’s recovery. As someone with no prior relation to the two, he starts completely afresh with them. McCamus perfectly plays the quietly valiant step-grandfather, never looking down on Jack and always treating him with a fair understanding.
What perhaps scared me most in the film is how you saw the character of Old Nick. Sean Bridgers brings a startlingly normality and vulnerability to the evil character – which really shook me. I think what it was was seeing him alone in certain moments, most notable when he’s carrying the rolling up rug though his backyard. He pauses for a moment, looks ashamed or disappointed in himself momentarily, but he seems to shake it off and carry on. Of course, as the book is from Jack’s point of view we never get an insight into the antagonist’s life, whereas the film does bring that.
This is one of those stories that changes your outlook on life a little bit. It touches you so deeply, you feely so truly connected to the story and the characters that it’s something you find you can’t stop thinking about. The original book by Emma Donoghue is astonishing, and the film adaptation beautiful.
Room has rightly so received a lot of nominations and awards. The book was a New York Times bestseller, and was shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2010. The film has an abundance of nominations and awards. Brie Larson’s performance has won her Best Actress awards from the National Board of Review, Chicago Film Critics, the Golden Globes, Screen Actor’s Guild and the Critic’s Choice Award. She is also nominated for two BAFTA awards; for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and the Rising Star award, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Jacob Tremblay was nominated for over sixteen awards, including a Screen Actor’s Guild Award, and a Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Young Performer – the latter of which he won (and made an adorable acceptance speech). Room also has three other Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director for Abrahamson and Best Adapted Screenplay for Emma Donoghue.
Finally, see this section from the official roomthemovie.com website. It’s titled ‘DISCOVER YOUR STRONG’, and features two links – either ‘GIVE STRONG’ or ‘GET STRONG’. The page encourages visitors to take a picture or video of their “own personal Strong”, then share it on Instagram with the hashtag #DiscoverRoom and #DiscoverYourStrong. They then add your image to the Get Strong section, so your symbol of strength can inspire others.
Above all else, Room is about love, hope and strength. See the film for one of the most moving pieces of cinema you’ll ever see, but make reading the book an absolute priority.