Spangler’s From Sentence to Screen: Room

room movie poster

Room is a 2015 independent drama film directed by Lenny Abrahamson and stars Brie Larson, Jacob Trembly, Joan Allen and Sean Bridgers. The movie starts off with narration from the main character, Jack, a five-year-old boy telling us about himself, his mother, and where they live. Jack and Ma are in a backyard shed called Room which is where they live and where Jack was born. The young boy has never had any contact with the outside world and believes only he and Ma are real and alive. The other person Jack is aware of, though has little interaction with is a man he calls “Old Nick”, who Jack believes is only half real because he doesn’t live in Room. Viewers of the film understand that “Old Nick” is not a good man, as most nights he comes into Room, when Jack is supposed to be sleeping, and rapes Ma. Not long after Jack turns five, Ma comes to the decision that the two of them need to escape in order to get away from “Old Nick” and live a normal life. The movie is based on the 2010 Emma Donoghue novel of the same name. In this blog post I will be analyzing the character of Jack and the scene where Ma tries to kill herself; looking at how the film is different between the mediums and how it affects the story for both book and movie.

In the novel Room everything we learn is from Jack’s perspective, as he is the narrator, which makes for very honest storytelling but he is unreliable because of his age and lack of knowledge. As a reader, Jack’s perspective is very interesting and lets the reader have information that the narrator himself doesn’t even understand. This led to several times in the book, when the reader would see or hear something from Jack and understand what was happening right away, while the five-year-old character didn’t know anything was wrong or would have to ask. His child mind is still very complex though, which is something the reader is able to understand, even if Jack is an unreliable narrator. Emma Donoghue did a great job of making Jack a well rounded character, which I think would be challenging for a lesser author that would have resulted in him being flat or baby-like. Which is why I wasn’t very surprised when I found out Donoghue also wrote the screenplay for the film, as Jack in the movie was just as intelligent and funny as in the book, while still allowing him to have the energy and emotions of a child.

The character of Jack in the movie is very resilient and curious, much like he is in the book. In the movie, however, these attributes are more apparent. There were times in the book after he and Ma had left Room, where Jack would just do something and didn’t think about how his actions had to be different in the new setting, which for a five-year-old is understandable. In the film though he seemed to be much more cautious and questioning of the new environment he was in. There is a scene in the book where Jack goes with his uncle and aunt, two characters who are not in the film, to the mall. In the mall Jack finds a book that he had in Room and steals it from the store, not understanding why he can’t just take the book. Though this scene never happened in the movie, Jacob Trembly’s Jack seems much more aware about how different things really are outside of Room when it comes to how a person is supposed to act. Whenever he is in a new situation of setting he is much more likely to follow the lead of an adult or ask questions before doing something. An example of this is whenever another character would ask Jack a question, and he would give his answer to Ma first to make sure it was acceptable. There is a scene in the film when Jack and Ma first came to live with Grandma and Leo, and Grandma asked if they wanted anything to drink, Jack whispered to Ma that he wanted juice because he was unsure of his new surroundings. Through both mediums Jack shows great emotional maturity, while still having the frustration of a child that has to deal with very scary and uncomfortable things. Even the differences between book Jack and film Jack are more just different perspectives of him that come from either seeing things through him or a watcher’s view.

room book cover

Now looking at the actual story of Room, between the two mediums, film and book, in most respects the two are quite similar. When picking a scene to compare between the two there were several that could have been chosen, but I didn’t want to pick one that was too similar as it would be harder to explain how the change affected the rest of the movie. I ended up choosing to look at the seen where Brie Larson’s Ma is found by Jack after trying to commit suicide. First looking at the novel, this happens when Jack and Ma are still at the hospital after being saved and Jack comes back after the trip with his aunt and uncle to find Ma more “gone” than usual; “gone” is what happens when Ma goes into a comatose state unable to function because of her depression. When Jack walks into their hospital room he sees the bottle of painkillers his mother was given is empty and she has thrown up on the bed. He goes to tell a nurse this and when the nurse sees Ma, she calls a “code blue”. This results in Jack going to live with his grandma and steppa Leo (step-grandpa), while his mother gets psychiatric treatment.

In the film the suicide attempt doesn’t happen until after Ma and Jack leave the hospital to life with the grandmother and Leo. Jack goes to find his mother in the middle of the night and when he goes in the bathroom he finds an unconscious Ma with vomit all over her. Jack in the movie is much more distressed by finding his mother in this condition compared to book Jack; he screams out for his Ma which wakes up his grandparents who call 911. In both the movie and the book the suicide attempt is brought on by an interview Ma decides to do for tv. The woman who is doing the interview in both mediums of the story asks questions that make Ma uncomfortable and lead her to feeling like she failed Jack. These two scenes, the interview and the suicide attempt, happen earlier in the book than they did in the movie, which allowed Jack to explore and learn more about the world without his mother with him. Whereas in the movie, this allows the viewer to see how Ma reacts to being in the outside world again, something which is only seen a little in the book, but also still lets the viewer see how Jack functions without his Ma.

I originally saw this movie on an international flight to Germany and absolutely loved it, so when I got home I bought the book. Sometimes when I watch an adaption and then read the book I find it hard to get engaged in the book because I am expecting something so different, an example of this happened with The Fifth Wave. I was very delighted and surprised when this was not the case for Room, as from the first couple of pages it had the same tone as the movie. Though the book was different enough that I didn’t feel bored with it, I could still understand how Emma Donoghue kept the essence of her book when she adapted it to film. I would highly recommend both the book and the movie, as they both include great elements of drama, character development, and storytelling. The story of Room contains highly sensitive topics like kidnapping, rape, and suicide so viewers should be conscious of that before going into either the book or the movie. In my next blog post I will be looking at the movie “Perks of Being a Wallflower” written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, and adapted from his 1999 novel.

— Jo Spangler, Film blogger.

Jo Spangler’s Bio:

Jo Spangler

Jo Spangler is a junior at Lewis University, majoring in English Literature and Language with a minor in Creative Writing. She is a writing tutor in the Lewis Writing Center and a Youth Enrichment Aide for the YMCA. In her free time, Jo enjoys reading, writing, listening to music, and watching movies. She has been to 10 countries outside the United States, including England, Italy, Turkey, and Austria. One of Jo’s favorite book series is The All Souls Trilogy, by Deborah Harkness, because of how she mixes the supernatural with history and the focus on character development. In the future, she hopes to go into the publishing industry to help find new and exciting books for people to read.


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