Based on Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel, and directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Room is told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who has been brought up by his mother (Brie Larson) in a single room, having been held captive for Jack’s whole life. Ma has created a whole universe in ‘Room’ for Jack, who knows nothing of the outside world, but when Ma decides it’s time to escape, she risks everything to give Jack the chance to make a thrilling discovery: the outside world. Room is a story about the unparalleled bond between parent and child, and how light can be found in the worst of situations when seen through a child’s eyes.
The following post is a review of the film only. You can read my review of the book on its own here or my comparison of the film to the book here.
With the novel told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, Room is told in the same narrative style as the film unfolds from Jack’s point of view. Jack knows nothing but the 11×11 square room that he has grown up in, as the story focuses on his struggle to come to terms with the thought of even a single blade of grass existing outside of the walls he is imprisoned in.
The story is inspired by the infamous Fritzl case, from which Donoghue conceived the story for Room after hearing about five-year-old Felix, so the subject matter is quite hard-hitting. If it were told through any other narrative, this would have been a completely different story, but it’s because of Donoghue’s choice in narrative style and how well she writes from this perspective in her novel that makes it such a tender story.
Despite how uncomfortable the scenes would have been if they were from an adult’s point of view, Room is, instead, a surprisingly uplifting account of a child experiencing something for the first time. And with Donoghue writing the screenplay for the film, her story is adapted beautifully and is handled with a great delicacy. It does still have its darker moments, but more than anything Room is a coming-of-age journey.
My only fault with the adaptation is that the second half of the film doesn’t focus enough on how Jack deals with this brand new world he is experiencing. In the novel, it is this sort-of-adventure that makes the story so heart-warming. Whilst the scenes set in Room at the beginning of the film are done brilliantly, as soon as Ma and Jack escape, the focus is put too much on how Ma is reacting rather than on Jack having to question every single thing he comes into contact with.
This single flaw in the adaptation comes from the only notable change from the novel, which sees Jack and Ma leave the hospital quite hesitantly, whereas in the novel they do not leave for a few weeks, with Ma not leaving until the very end. The story is navigated back to this at some point in the film, but it is these first few days in the hospital where Jack begins to understand more about the world he has arrived into, in the novel, so it is this change that sees the focus from Jack to Ma come into play.
Instead of having the focus of Jack discovering everything for the first time, we instead are centred on Ma’s character, as the focus is put on the conflicts going on in her mind, as she struggles to balance her proudness of her son with her impatience of his understanding. Whilst this opens up some of the darker moments in the story, it is also the reason why the film didn’t quite have the emotional impact that it should have.
Nevertheless, Jack is such an empowering character for someone so young, and it’s hard not to feel a mother’s instinct come through as you watch him deal with his situation in his own way. The story is all about these inner struggles going on in his mind, and it’s the way his relationship with his mother develops that keeps you gripped. Because we experience the story through his naive eyes, as well, the story even manages to be quite funny at times. Some of this humour is lost in the adaptation, but Jack is still an incredibly likeable character and it is because of him that this film will be so successful.
In the role of Ma, Brie Larson gives an outstanding performance and she deals with the emotions of this broken character excellently. But whilst Larson’s getting all of the much-deserved praise, I can’t help but feel that Jacob Tremblay needs a lot more recognition. Tremblay is one of my new favourite people, and he’s absolutely perfect in the lead as Jack. He’s what makes this adaptation work so well, and it is because of his character that the story is dealt with such tenuity and originality.
Room is certainly a story that you won’t want to forget, as are Larson’s and Tremblay’s phenomenal performances. Room is, after all, an inspiring story about survival, courage, and keeping up your strength when all else seems lost, so if that’s not enough to pull on your heartstrings, then I don’t know what is.