Arts interview

Author Emma Donoghue talks to The Tech

Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay shine in film adaptation of Donoghue’s novel Room

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Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as Ma and Jack in Room.
courtesy of a24



Directed by Lenny Abrahamson

Starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay

Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue

Rated R

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Told from the perspective of 5-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay), Room, a 2010 novel by Emma Donoghue, is a captivating tale about Jack and his mother, Ma, who are confined to a small room with no exposure to the outside world. Except for the occasional nighttime visit from their captor, Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), Jack and Ma (Brie Larson) spend all of their time with each other, playing games, watching TV, and reading books. Ma knows what lies beyond the walls, but as far as Jack knows, the room is his entire world.

After I read the book in high school, it immediately became one of my favorite novels, so I was thrilled that Room was going to be adapted into a film with a screenplay also written by Donoghue. It was surreal watching Donoghue’s characters come to life on screen, and during an interview with The Tech, Donoghue revealed how she chose which aspects of the book to include in the movie. “So in the book, the first, maybe thirty pages is the reader gradually figuring out from the little hints Jack drops [about] what kind of situation we’re in,” Donoghue explained. “But in a film, the camera turns once, and you know where we are. So it struck me that the plot should get going much faster. But the first half [of the film] was really easy, because there was that unstoppable momentum even at the microlevel of what Jack knows and the increasing tension between Ma and Old Nick. The tricky bit was the second half because the world is wider, so you have to choose what to show. And the second half of the book is quite episodic in that Jack is in a variety of settings, so I really had to strip away a lot of that for the film, and try and stay focused on the Ma and Jack story.”

Since the first-person narrative in the novel is integral to the reader’s understanding of Jack and Ma’s situation, I was curious how director Lenny Abrahamson would approach the film’s point of view. Thankfully, while the film is not told solely through the eyes of Jack, the plot still retains its original suspense and focuses on his powerful mother-son relationship with Ma. Tremblay does a phenomenal job playing the sheltered yet infinitely curious 5 year-old, and he brought me to tears with his incredible range of emotion which varied from frustrated rage to utter sadness.

I was equally impressed with Larson’s performance as Ma, and Donoghue also had nothing but praise for Larson’s portrayal. “As soon as I saw Brie’s audition tapes, I was blown away by her because I had the impression that she was talking to a real child!” Donoghue exclaimed. “I asked Lenny, ‘Was there a child sitting there that she was talking to?’ And he said, ‘No, no, that was me on the floor!’ And so I thought that if she could conjure up a child out of nowhere in her audition tapes even, I knew that she was going to have an amazing rapport once we had a real child actor.”

While the basis of the movie is unnerving, the film is not meant to be a psychological thriller. “The premise of this film scares people so much, and many people assume that it’s going to be horrifying just because of the background of the story,” Donoghue explained. “And so I think that A24 [productions] realized that they needed to do a lot of reassuring people, both with the poster, which is really upbeat, and with the trailer.” Ultimately, the film’s focus is on Jack, his unbreakable relationship with Ma, and his fascinating interpretation of the world around him after growing up in captivity for five years. With an extraordinary cast, and an equally incredible plot, the film is guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings, regardless of whether you have read the novel.