ROOM. (2015) BASED ON THE BOOK BY EMMA DONOGHUE. SCREENPLAY BY EMMA DONOGHUE. DIRECTED BY LENNY ABRAHAMSON. STARRING BRIE LARSON, JACOB TREMBLAY, JOAN ALLEN, WILLIAM H. MACY, TOM MCCAMUS AND SEAN BRIDGERS. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
A few short years ago, I remember seeing a book with a blue cover doing the rounds. It was called ROOM and it was written by an Irish writer called Emma Donoghue. (I’m an Irish writer too, don’t forget…!) It was very much the book of the moment, like for example all the Stieg Larsson books were the talk of the book clubs when they came out around the end of the last decade and THE SLAP by Christos Tsiolkas as well from around the same time.
‘I must read that book,’ I remember thinking, finding myself influenced by the catchy title, the nice blue cover and the fact that everyone else was gabbing about it enthusiastically everywhere I turned. I bought the book but it kind of got lost in my massive to-read pile. To this day, I still haven’t read it, believe it or not, but I’ve certainly seen the film. Seen it and loved it…!
I saw ROOM in the cinema on Mother’s Day, kind of an odd day to watch such a powerfully emotive movie that centres around a devoted mother and her young son. Some people have said that they found the film harrowing. Other people said that it left them in floods of tears.
Being a Mammy myself and prone to bawling my eyes out at the least provocation, I certainly sniffled a bit in all the right places. It’s a tearjerker and a half, this one, so be ready with the hankies. It doesn’t just tug at the heartstrings, though.
It’s very much a film for the age we live in, an age in which young women who’ve been abducted by men and held captive for years suddenly find themselves free for whatever reason, women like Natascha Kampusch, Jaycee Lee Dugard and Elisabeth Fritzl, the daughter of the notorious Josef Fritzl. We’ve seen them on the news and we’ve read their incredible stories in the newspapers and their biographies. We know that these things happen, in other words.
Their ordeals don’t necessarily end with the longed-for opening of their prison doors, either. The long and difficult readjustment to the outside world comes with its own particular set of problems and that, in a nutshell, is a large part of what ROOM is all about.
I don’t think it’s any longer a spoiler to say that ROOM is a film of two halves. Ma and her five-year-old son Jack spend the first hour of the movie locked in the titular ‘room’ which has been Jack’s home for his entire life and Ma’s for even longer, seven years in all.
Ma, otherwise known as Joy Newsome, was only seventeen when she was abducted by the man she and her son call ‘Old Nick.’ After two years, she’d given birth to Jack and he’d become a part of everyday life in the tiny shed in their captor’s back garden. Joy is instinctively a wonderful mother.
Though conditions are hard and they only have what food and clothes ‘Old Nick’ grudgingly provides, she does everything in her power to see that Jack lives as normal and fulfilling a life as possible. She teaches the little tyke to read and draw, they bake cakes together when they have eggs and flour and she sings him songs and tells him stories until her throat is raw. She’s a selfless and wonderful mother.
It’s not all fun and games in ROOM, though. Cute-as-a-button Jack has to hide in the wardrobe when ‘Old Nick’ comes round for sex with Ma. Every now and then Ma has her ‘gone’ days when she’s too depressed to get out of bed.
I kept worrying while watching the film: What if there’s a fire? They can’t get out! What happens when Ma gets her period? Does ‘Old Nick’ bring her sanitary towels or does he expect her to make do with old torn-up towels and then wash ’em out by hand? It’s a grim situation for the mother and child.
The second half of the film sees Ma and Jack adjusting painfully to life in the outside world, but no way am I bridging the gap between the two parts for you guys with icky spoilers, haha. Mother and son find themselves the centre of intrusive and unwanted attention as everyone wants to ‘assess’ them both and monitor how they’re coping with sudden freedom.
Family relationships are difficult to pick up. Jack’s never been vaccinated so the germs we’re most of us immune to by now could represent a real danger to him. He doesn’t know how to climb stairs either because he’s never seen them before. Actually, I don’t think he’s ever even worn shoes because there was no need for shoes in ROOM. The poor wee nipper…!
The media are not exactly helpful, either. That disastrous television interview made my blood boil. How dared that woman imply that Joy was a bad mother for not begging her captor to leave Jack outside a hospital so he could be saved…? The road back to some kind of normality for Joy and Jack is clearly going to be long and tricky and fraught with obstacles…
Brie Larson won a deserved Academy Award for her performance as a mother who is pushed to the very limits of human endurance. Jacob Tremblay as little Jack should really have been given one as well. He’s terrific, bless his buttons. I’m sure that Emma Donoghue’s book sales weren’t harmed either as a result of all the positive publicity received by this remarkable, one-off movie…!
ROOM is coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray on May 9th 2016, courtesy of STUDIOCANAL. It comes with audio commentary by director Lenny Abrahamson and a couple of rather choice featurettes which you might just care to get your hands on. It would make a fantastic present for a friend but, actually, you know what? Why give it away? Keep it for yourself, haha. It’s quite honestly too good not to. End of story.
Drama | Ireland/Canada, 2015 | 12 | Studiocanal | 9th May 2016 (UK) | Dir. Lenny Abrahamson | Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen, William H.Macy | Buy:Room [DVD]