Irish Canadian author Emma Donoghue’s novel “Room” is about a five year old boy with the name Jack, being held captive with his mother in a small room, a 10’* 10’ garden shed. Donoghue got the idea for ‘Room’ from the ‘Fritzl’ case in Austria. A man named ‘Josef Fritzl’ was discovered to have kept his daughter in his house’ cellar for nearly 24 years. However, the writer’s intention was not to showcase the vivid details of the case or to deal with aspects of sexual abuse. She rather unfolds the story from a 5 five year old boy's view. And gradually within the hostage story, we find universal themes of motherly love and the power of relationship between a mother and her child. The novel wasn’t also about how they escape from captivity; it takes further steps to show how they take on freedom that more or less confines them to fresh rooms.
It is very tricky to adapt a novel that was entirely narrated in first person perspective, to a film. In the book, despite Jack’s innocent narrative we get a glimpse of 'ma' to grasp that everything isn’t as great as Jack says. But, still Ma is kept at a distance, which isn’t possible in a movie. Voice-overs could be done for the 5 year old boy, although Ma has got be in all the frames. She can’t be sketch of Jack’s viewpoint. Within the frames, the ‘room’ belongs to Ma as much it belongs to Jack. In writing the script for the movie, Donoghue perfectly understands this and along with excellent direction and editing, the world or the ‘room’ is organically realized without literalizing everything. Since camera is the default point-of-view for characters, we often see Jack overhearing conversations and glimpsing through slats in the closet, etc. It is a perspective that is an obvious cliche in movies, but director Lenny Abrahamson gets more subtle with his approach in the second part of ‘Room’, when Jack sees world from a vantage point.
Donoghue wisely keeps the genuine childlike, filtered POV voice-overs to mark significant occasions, especially to show the horrors and pains experienced by ‘Ma’. Donoghue, the scriptwriter, must also be commended for not shifting the perspective to Joy; or for not trying to achieve an emotional arc for Jack. Opting for either of these elements would have made the film more sappy and saccharine. The editing in the ‘room’ sequences is impeccable. If we closely observe, we could see how Jack doesn’t get weary when days transform to night or vice-versa because his whole word is the room (and kids bounce back easily), whereas new days and nights wears upon ma, since she don’t know how much she could take. So, these little film-making tricks along with stupendous central performances (especially by Jacob Tremblay) doesn’t spoil the movie experience of those who read the novel and it may have imbued a great experience for those seeing it for the first time.
Obviously, there are quiet a few problems in the movie. It is easy to predict the outcome of mother and son’s plight in both the book & movie. But, since we shared more of Jack’s private world in the book, we can perfectly understand his initial dilemmas and subsequent anxieties. And, although the situation would only end in one way, Donoghue wringed enough tension out of the escape plan. Abrahamson’s “Room” somehow missed to built that tension (however, it is understandable). And, yes many incidents are left out here and there in the movie, which on the whole doesn’t damage the novel’s soul (in the book, I immensely liked the endearing Jack’s trip to the mall). If you had loved a story in its novel form, then it would be little hard for a movie adaptation to satisfy you (“Life of Pi” and “The Martian” are few of the recent movies that didn’t work for me as much as the novels). But “Room”, the movie, excels in three aspects: in not sensationalizing or wallowing in the misery of its characters; in contemplating the banality of a huge world alongside the complexity of a little room; and for being a universal (may be not-so-subtle) tale about parenting.
For most of us, the world is a big room whose scope is getting shrinked with new innovations and technologies, and yet we all have/had these rooms which mean the world to us. For Jack, the world is room and room is the world. Ma uses TV as a linguistic coach; teaches him reading and writing (in the book, there is said to be five children books in the ‘room’); and exercises to prepare him for a day he will enter the outer world for real. But, in caring for the child within the limited world, she has lied/saved him the cruel truth of the world/room. All of our parents and we, to our children have/will tell things that in turn creates our vision of a world. And, at gradual stages, they/we re-explain the so-called ‘truths’ to fit into our current world vision or condition. “Room” takes that basic experience of parenting to create mother/son relationship entrenched in a dispirited world/room, which for Jack isn’t that bad at all. Towards the end of the film, during a little conversation with his grandma about ‘room’, Jack says “sometimes, I miss it”, for which Grandma asks ‘wasn’t it awfully small?’ Jack replies “It went every direction, all the way to the end. It never finished. And ‘ma’ was always there” These are one of the most genuine and beautiful words in the film, which implies our general desire to be in an enclosed place with our loved ones – the little place which becomes our perfect shared universe. The sense of expansion and love, the ‘room’ diffused on Jack is something he misses in the real, yet enclosed world (and, this only irks Joy aka ‘Ma’ because all she wants to do is forget is that room/world). Alas, we all must break free from our little universes/space (however good it is) to search for fresh experiences. Jack gets that truth in the end. With a sense of optimism and ‘Joy’, he says ‘goodbye’ to the objects in previous world/room (which now looks ‘shrinked’ for him), and like all of us, he might traverse through little world/rooms to live what’s called as real life.
Movies and literature generally tend to infuse copious amount of sentimentality in designing the parent-child relationship. Donoghue script as well as the book isn’t totally free of sentimentality, but it never be accused of being banal. The asymmetric nature of parent-child bond is finely etched out in both the forms. Ma is always worrying for Jack in the ‘room’ and that feeling isn’t reciprocated by Jack. As a child, we might have known or understood our parents, but we learn to love them as time stretches. The sense of love Jack shows in the ‘room’ (which arises from dependency too) and outside the ‘room’ essentially differs. In the outside, the symbiotic relationship between the two takes up a more emotional perspective, because in that world ‘Ma’ needs ‘Jack’ more than ever. The non-cutesy portrayal of Jacob Tremblay’s Jack is luminous source for keeping away ‘Ma’ from sinking into despair. And, vitally all these gleaming and contemplative elements in the film wouldn’t have had much of an impact if not for the acute direction, which apart from showing few tightening of a lip or stricken side-way glances, never tries to manipulate our emotions.
“Room” (2015) celebrates our amazing capacity to take care of each other. With love and hope we can create a world out of a small room. And, ‘love’ is definitely worth surviving for.