Room, adapted from Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel of the same name, is a remarkable story. Based on the infamous Fritzl case, it’s a work of cinema that transcends horrible circumstances to share a message of eternal hope.
On April 26, 2008, Elisabeth Fritzl was released from a 24-year imprisonment, locked away in the family’s basement. Her father, Josef Fritzl, had repeatedly physically and sexually abused her for years, lying about her whereabouts to her mother, who assumed she had run away. Josef was eventually sentenced to life in prison, and Elisabeth had to face life on her own in an unfamiliar world – along with two of her seven children that spent their entire lives underground.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson and produced by A24 Films and DirecTV, the film differs vastly from how everything unfolded in real life. “Ma” Newsome, played by Brie Larson, isn’t related to her captor, and she only gives birth to one child (“Jack”). “Old Nick”, however, the film’s equivalent of Joseph Fritzl, is correctly portrayed as an unhinged, cold sociopath by actor Sean Bridgers.
Throughout Room, the audience sees more than Ma and her son’s predicament; we also stand witness to the ways in which a mother’s love can bring comfort to a child in even the most dire and dysfunctional situations. Even as Jack experienced confusion – and regret – as he learned to live outside of Room (his name for the garden shed where he and his mother were held captive) the one piece of security that he has through it all is Ma. He gathers his strength to attempt an escape and move on to a different life from Ma’s steadfast love and determination. That’s a pretty heavy thing for a five year old to deal with, but newcomer Jacob Tremblay gives an excellent performance.
At times the movie is quite uncomfortable to watch, but it should be given the subject matter. It is a stomach-churning story; thrilling and terrifying, but comforting in its conclusion. The audience is forced to think what we would do if faced with the same circumstances. Once we’re placed in Room along with Ma and Jack, we can detect the sense of discomfort and unease one would feel constantly being forced to live each and every second of the day in such a cramped and inhospitable environment. This element is key to what makes the film work.
Abrahamson made the right decision by giving Room something of a personality of its own. As it’s the only place he has known, Jack has a profound attachment to the garden shed. It may seem unthinkable that anyone would actually miss being imprisoned, but through the eyes of a five-year old boy, the audience is able to understand Jack’s feelings of loss after leaving Room behind.
As young Jack grapples with a new world, Ma also goes through a huge psychological upheaval during her transition. Her son displays the type of resilience that only comes from being a naïve, unknowing child, and in a sense, Jack is able to adjust a bit better than Ma. Though she doesn’t regret leaving the place where she’d been imprisoned for seven years, she is beyond overwhelmed. The one thing that brings her back from the brink of complete destruction is the dedication she has to helping her son thrive. Brie Larson does a brilliant job of bringing Ma’s emotions to the screen.
Room isn’t just a piece of well-crafted entertainment, it’s a true experience with a wide spectrum of richly textured emotions. The film manages to do justice to the novel while also remaining sensitive to the true story which serves as its inspiration. Room is more than a tale of extreme survival – it is a tribute to the power of unwavering maternal love.