Book v Film: Room

“In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time… In Room, me and Ma had time for everything. I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter over all the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there’s only a little smear of time on each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.”

Based on Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel, and directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Room is told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who has been brought up by his mother (Brie Larson) in a single room, having been held captive for Jack’s whole life. Ma has created a whole universe in ‘Room’ for Jack, who knows nothing of the outside world, but when Ma decides it’s time to escape, she risks everything to give Jack the chance to make a thrilling discovery: the outside world. Room is a story about the unparalleled bond between parent and child, and how light can be found in the worst of situations when seen through a child’s eyes.


The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.

With the novel told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, Room is told in the same narrative style as the film unfolds from Jack’s point of view. Jack knows nothing but the 11×11 square room that he has grown up in, as the story focuses on his struggle to come to terms with the thought of even a single blade of grass existing outside of the walls he is imprisoned in.

The story is inspired by the infamous Fritzl case, from which Donoghue conceived the story for Room after hearing about five-year-old Felix, so the subject matter is quite hard-hitting. If it were told through any other narrative, this would have been a completely different story, but it’s because of Donoghue’s choice in narrative style and how well she writes from this perspective in her novel that makes it such a tender story.

Despite how uncomfortable the scenes would have been if they were from an adult’s point of view, Room is, instead, a surprisingly uplifting account of a child experiencing something for the first time. And with Donoghue writing the screenplay for the film, her story is adapted beautifully and is handled with a great delicacy. It does still have its darker moments, but more than anything Room is a coming-of-age journey.

My only fault with the adaptation is that the second half of the film doesn’t focus enough on how Jack deals with this brand new world he is experiencing. In the novel, it is this sort-of-adventure that makes the story so heart-warming. Whilst the scenes set in Room at the beginning of the film are done brilliantly, as soon as Ma and Jack escape, the focus is put too much on how Ma is reacting rather than on Jack having to question every single thing he comes into contact with.

You can buy the book here

This single flaw in the adaptation comes from the only notable change from the novel, which sees Jack and Ma leave the hospital quite hesitantly, whereas in the novel they do not leave for a few weeks, with Ma not leaving until the very end. The story is navigated back to this at some point in the film, but it is these first few days in the hospital where Jack begins to understand more about the world he has arrived into, in the novel, so it is this change that sees the focus from Jack to Ma come into play.

Instead of having the focus of Jack discovering everything for the first time, we instead are centred on Ma’s character, as the focus is put on the conflicts going on in her mind, as she struggles to balance her proudness of her son with her impatience of his understanding. Whilst this opens up some of the darker moments in the story, it is also the reason why the film didn’t quite have the emotional impact that it should have.

Nevertheless, Jack is such an empowering character for someone so young, and it’s hard not to feel a mother’s instinct come through as you watch him deal with his situation in his own way. The story is all about these inner struggles going on in his mind, and it’s the way his relationship with his mother develops that keeps you gripped. Because we experience the story through his naive eyes, as well, the story even manages to be quite funny at times. Some of this humour is lost in the adaptation, but Jack is still an incredibly likeable character and it is because of him that this film will be so successful.

In the role of Ma, Brie Larson gives an outstanding performance and she deals with the emotions of this broken character excellently. But whilst Larson’s getting all of the much-deserved praise, I can’t help but feel that Jacob Tremblay needs a lot more recognition. Tremblay is one of my new favourite people, and he’s absolutely perfect in the lead as Jack. He’s what makes this adaptation work so well, and it is because of his character that the story is dealt with such tenuity and originality.

Differences From The Book:

As with all book adaptations, there are a few alterations. Most of these do not affect the story as a whole, but there are a few changes which change its focus. I will go on to explain:

  • In the book, Ma details that she had a stillbirth before Jack. When giving birth to the baby, Nick didn’t help out, resulting in the baby dying. The baby is then buried in the back garden, which is why Ma doesn’t want to return to Room at the end.
  • The book spends more time in Room, whereas the film gets this part out the way pretty quickly, to have more focus on their escape and on being outside.
  • There’s one scene in the book which I wish the adaptation had included, which sees Jack, when entering the hospital, see himself and Ma on the television (on the news). With the huge part that TV played for Jack in Room, this scene felt quite important in the book.
  • In the book, Ma doesn’t leave the hospital until right at the end, when she has an overdose and Jack has to be taken to his grandparents. In the film, Ma and Jack leave the hospital almost straight away. They both go Ma’s parents, and she has her overdose here, leaving Jack behind as she goes back to the hospital on her own. In the book, Ma doesn’t spend any time at her parents’ house; as soon as she leaves the hospital, she goes straight to her new apartment with Jack.
  • The grandparents, therefore, have a much bigger part to play in the film, whereas they only spend a short time with Jack in the book.
  • Because, in the book, Ma and Jack do not leave the hospital, there’s a lot more time spent on Jack getting used to the new world and taking the time to adjust to it. In the film, because he goes straight to his grandparents’ house, he adjusts to the world much quicker. This was my only real flaw with the film adaptation because this is what a large part of the book is about, whereas the film puts more focus on Ma than on Jack.
  • In the book, Jack cuts off his hair to send “his strong” to his Ma in hospital. In the film, he doesn’t send it to her.
  • The film doesn’t include Ma’s brother, his wife, and their daughter, Bronwyn. Whilst Ma and Jack are in the hospital, there’s a chapter in the book where they take Jack out for a day, but it doesn’t go too well. It seems odd to not include them at all but, at the same time, it keeps the focus on Ma and Jack.
  • The film also doesn’t give any details about Old Nick’s fate, whereas we know a little more about this in the book.

Overall Verdict:

Room is certainly a story that you won’t want to forget, as are Larson’s and Tremblay’s phenomenal performances. Room is, after all, an inspiring story about survival, courage, and keeping up your strength when all else seems lost, so if that’s not enough to pull on your heartstrings, then I don’t know what is.

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