Last night Mr. Brain and I finally got around to watching the movie adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s Room. I loved the book, marveled at the insight into Jack’s psyche, though as I read it some time ago, I had a lot of space between my reading and viewing experiences. Still, it’s not an easily forgotten story and I was very curious to see how it would play out as a movie. So much of the story is filtered through Jack, which is how the horror becomes almost palatable. If Room is the only world you know, it’s not so bad.
*Sarah’s note: if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, Room is Jack’s world, the shed he’s lived in since birth. He does have access to a TV, however, so everything he encounters there is TV, an alternative 2-D universe.
I’m happy to report that the movie was as fantastic as the book, and even though I knew the plot and all its twists and turns, I still found myself gripping the edge of the couch. (Spoilers to come, if you haven’t read the book.) First, let me say that Jacob Tremblay as Jack was phenomenal. The nuances of his responses were dead on, and I never found myself questioning him as Jack. I found a snippet of an interview with him in which he said that the part wasn’t difficult for him “because [he] was playing a happy child.” Still, the scenes of trauma and escape didn’t disappoint. Likewise, Brie Larson was fantastic and I appreciated the way in which she sometimes sounded young, like a 25 year old mother would. Occasionally her tone when addressing Jack shifted into something more like an adolescent and I was struck by the truth of that likelihood for her as both a young mother and as a woman held hostage since the age of seventeen.
The most striking thing for me about the movie, in comparison to the book, was that the movie gave Ma (Larson) a voice and presence that wasn’t really possible in the book. In telling the written story through Jack we really only know Ma through him, even though we take what he relays of her actions and speech as truth. Of course we also get his commentary on both, which is pretty priceless. It’s not like we aren’t aware of her trauma and suffering in the book, but it’s tempered through Jack’s five year old perception. The movie gave them more equal footing for me, though the soundtrack supported Jack’s reality. The opening scenes are very orchestral and pastoral, following Jack’s exploration of Room, and a similar moodscape follows them through the rest of the journey. It’s hard not to marvel at Ma’s creation of a world for him, complete with games, exercise, rituals. We really only see her in complete despair a couple of times.
There was a scene that really stuck out to me in the movie that I honestly don’t remember in the book, and perhaps it was striking because it’s at the point where we see Ma, whose real name is Joy, looking put together and “normal” for a TV interview. The interviewer obtusely insists that she respond to a question about what Joy will tell Jack about his father when he is older. Jack, by the way, is watching this whole exchange in the wings. Joy insists that he has no father, and when pressed for her logic she explains that fatherhood is a relationship, not a biological condition, and that Jack only “has” her. I’m not quite sure why this is the scene that I’m still thinking about nearly 24 hours later. I suppose we glom onto things that speak to our own lives. Joy’s father refuses to acknowledge Jack because of his origin, though obviously Jack does not represent her sexual slavery, but her freedom. Through Jack she gains a companion, a lifeline, an imaginative alternative to being locked inside a shed for seven years. Ultimately Jack is also her escape from Room. I don’t know, I liked that she insisted that their shared experience was their bond, and their mutual mode of survival. Outside of Room, we have to watch her fall and flounder. She is free, but she is understandably damaged. Jack seems mostly oblivious to this in his 5 year old way, so I suppose we shoulder the sadness for him in watching her pull away as she heals herself.
Read the book. Watch the movie. Marvel at Emma Donoghue’s amazing psychological exploration and then watch it come to life perfectly on your screen.