The film adaptation of the bestselling Room is incredibly faithful to the book. Perhaps this is no surprise as the screenplay was written by Room’s author Emma Donoghue. Like the book, the film is simultaneously quiet and dramatic, illustrating the everyday moments that exist in the context of a prolonged tragedy.
Room is the story of a boy named Jack and his mother Ma, who was kidnapped at seventeen and imprisoned in a shed by a man named Old Nick. Jack was born in the shed (known as Room) after Old Nick impregnated Ma. At five, Jack has never been outside Room, or met anyone other than Ma. Old Nick comes into the shed at night to rape Ma, but Ma makes sure that Jack is securely asleep in the wardrobe when this occurs.
With one skylight and the TV as his only exposure to the outside world, Jack believes Room and outer space are all that exist. But as it becomes clear Old Nick is running out of money to support Ma and Jack, Ma tells Jack the truth about the larger world, in the hope he will be able to help her escape Room. Jack understandably resists accepting these sudden revelations.
The biggest difference between the book and the film arises not because the content of the story was changed, but because of the inherent restrictions of the mediums. In the book, the story is told entirely from Jack’s perspective. Jack is a creative, imaginative and intelligent child, but he is still a young child. Ma is only seen through his ideas, wants, needs and desires. As adults, we can infer—understanding things he doesn’t about how Ma must feel being locked in Room for seven years—but even these extrapolations are limited by what Jack chooses to observe about his mother.
It would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to maintain this perspective in a film. In the first half of the story, Jack and Ma are locked in a shed, with their social lives, by necessity, revolving almost entirely around each other. The film details their shared life in Room, and so we end up seeing Room from both Jack and Ma’s perspective. Ma’s feelings about life in Room are much more subdued than Jack’s, and she often approaches her self-imposed daily schedule with resignation. Her actions are shaded with a resentment and depression that we can see clearly but is often too subtle to affect a child as young as Jack.
Another difference between the book and the film is the weight of Jack’s frustrations at life in Room, which seemed greater in the film. In the book, Jack gets upset at times living in Room, but the overwhelming mood of his narration is happiness. He enjoys life in Room, pleased by his mother and his inanimate objects as friends. His narration rang true as the voice of a five-year-old—an incredible feat of writing to maintain for a whole book—but his voice was ultimately an extremely optimistic take on how a child would respond to being raised, for five years, in a locked shed, with only his mildly depressed mother as company. The book assumes a caring mother, a few books and a TV is enough for a child to become a happy, curious, intelligent, and empathetic boy.
In the film, Jack still becomes these things, but his frustrations at the constrictions of Room seemed to take on a more prominent role. To me, this shift—as slight as it was—seemed more true to reality. Even though Jack, unaware of the external world, doesn’t know what he is missing, it seems most children would chafe under such a restrictive lifestyle even if they didn’t know why. Much like a sleep deprived child will be unhappy even before he understands what sleep is. Life in a shed with only a mother as a companion seems too restrictive to not cause a fair amount of emotional turbulence and frustration. To me, it was a plus for the film that it more clearly emphasized the dark side of living in Room for Jack.
The second half of the film—after Ma and Jack escape Room—largely follows the events of the book, but like the first half, allows for a greater understanding of the adults and their relationships, outside of Jack’s perspective. Having read the book first, I found the illumination of Ma and her relationship with Old Nick and her parents to be an interesting addendum to the book.
Both Room the book and Room the movie are emotionally gripping and psychologically astute. A faithful adaptation with a few differences arising for the most part due to the different mediums, the film is sure to be enjoyed by the many fans of the book.