I haven’t done a book vs. movie post in a while, even though I have seen movies in the last few years that were based on books I’ve read (like Gone Girl). But I was inspired to write this post after seeing the movie adaptation of Room by Emma Donoghue, a book I read in 2010. Both are excellent.
Both the movie and the book versions of Room deal with a very painful and difficult subject: the imprisonment of a young woman and later, her son, in a small garden shed for 7 years by a sadistic man who kidnapped her off the street when she was 17. Ma, as she is known in both versions, has worked to create a stimulating and nurturing world for her son Jack, while protecting him from witnessing the nightly visits from her captor. The space they live in is tiny and claustrophobia-inducing, but she manages to get through the years with toys made from recycled trash, five books, a TV and her son’s imagination.
Shortly after the book and movie open, Ma decides it is time to make an extremely risky move to try to save herself and Jack. The escape from the shed is extremely harrowing, both in print and on screen (I actually had to watch it sped up even though I knew what was going to happen). Its immediate aftermath is also extremely intense.
The second half of both book and movie are about their lives in the world after they are out of the shed. It isn’t as stressful as the first half, but it’s just as intense emotionally, as Ma (named Joy in the movie) tries to reconnect with her parents and suffers a breakdown after a few weeks at home. Watching Jack try to deal with new relationships, an entirely new physical existence and his mother’s moods, is difficult. But both book and movie end on a hopeful note as you see each of them trying to move past what happened.
Emma Donoghue wrote the book and also adapted it for the screen. The book is told from Jack’s perspective, while the movie shifts more broadly to cover Joy’s worldview too. The book is more quirky (it’s told from the mind of a 5 year-old), and, like most movie adaptations, there are a lot of details in the book that are left out in the movie. I think Ma in the book is a little harsher than Joy in the movie, though Joy in the movie is hardly sunny.
Ultimately, I can’t say that one is better than the other. The visual impact of actually seeing the shed, aka Room, and watching the escape, made watching the movie a very intense experience for me. I was crying pretty much through the entire first half of the movie and some parts of the second. It’s one thing to try to imagine the hell Ma lived through, and it’s another to see it. The acting is fantastic – Brie Larson did a great job as Ma, and Jacob Tremblay was perfect as Jack. He remained true to character the whole time, never cloying or overacting. He beautifully conveyed bewilderment, fear, anger, affection – all of the emotions a boy in his situation would have experienced. And Jack’s relationship with his mother was beautiful. Not perfect, but beautiful.
I know there are people who avoided reading Room given the subject matter, and I am sure there are many people who won’t see the movie for the same reason. I won’t try to talk them out of it because I found both to be difficult. But they were so worth it. It’s a story I won’t ever forget.