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Literature / Room

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Jack is five years old and lives with his Ma in a single, eleven by eleven foot Room. He has lived there all his life, ever since he was born. Ma has lived there for seven years, ever since she was taken here by Old Nick. He has never been outside, seen any more of the sky than the slit of blue that comes through Skylight, or met any human being besides his Ma and Old Nick, who comes in at night to bring food and talk to Ma.

Jack is happy in Room, watching the imaginary people on television, playing with his Ma and listening to her stories. He thinks he can live in Room forever... but he can't.

Room is a 2010 novel by Emma Donoghue. She reports that she decided to write the book after learning of the horrific real-life Fritzl case. In 2015, the book was adapted into a film, with Donoghue penning the screenplay, and Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in the roles of Ma and Jack. The film's trailer can be seen here.


Not to be confused with The Room. In fact, you couldn't find two more diametrically opposite films, though coincidentally both had a budget of $6 million. Also not to be confused with Harold Pinter's The Room, either.

Room contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Jack's biological father, Old Nick, is holding him hostage and depriving him from proper socialization and development.
    • For his daughter, Old Nick did zero research into assuring she was healthy, and didn't care when she died. Had she lived, he would have treated her the same way he treated Jack.
  • Adaptational Personality Change: Nancy, Ma’s mother and Jack’s grandma, is a bit more of a frumpy old lady in the book — a bit Innocently Insensitive and has tried a few new-age ways to cope with her grief. The role in the movie was expanded and rewritten slightly when Joan Allen came on board, and she’s depicted as a bit quieter, more sensitive and intelligent.
    • To an extent, Ma is a bit more outgoing, talkative and political after her release in the novel — part of what drives her to a breaking point is the fact that she’s revered as a hero when she knows how many prisoners live in solitary confinement and children work in sweatshops. And she’s not quiet about it. With the shorter run-time, Ma is portrayed as a quieter version of shell-shocked in the movie.
  • Adapted Out:
    • In the book, Ma has a brother who has a wife and young daughter, who all play roles in Jack adapting to life outside Room. They're all left out of the movie.
    • Ma and Jack’s religious faith is a reoccurring element in the book but was cut out completely in the movie.
    • The film leaves out a few minor characters and character elements; for example, the mental hospital staff play a more prominent role in the book. Small character details, such as the fact that Ma and her brother are both adopted, are removed, and the age at which Ma was abducted is changed from a 19-year-old college sophomore in the novel to a 17-year-old high school student in the film, to accommodate for the fact that she was played by a younger actress.
    • By far the biggest detail removed from the film is that Jack was not the first product of Old Nick's assaults on Ma – she had carried a pregnancy to term before, a daughter, but due to Old Nick's negligence during the birth, she died almost instantly and was buried in the yard.
  • Alice Allusion: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is one of the few books they have in Room, and Jack often references it. His Ma compares herself to Alice when explaining to Jack how she got in Room.
  • Anger Born of Worry: Ma gets angry at Jack a few times when Jack risks upsetting Old Nick, which would endanger them both.
  • Arc Words: Jack asks Ma what a crater is, to which Ma replies "Holes where something happened." The concept of "holes where something happened" returns numerous times throughout the book.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When the interviewer implies that she failed to do what was best for Jack by keeping him with her and not getting him out of the room earlier, Ma is so overcome with guilt that she attempts suicide.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: When Ma is trying to tell him the story of how she got kidnapped, Jack keeps asking her things like what the color of Old Nick’s truck was, or the name of the dog that was used to kidnap Ma.
  • Badass Bystander: A ordinary dog walker is able to save Jack from being recaptured by Old Nick by spooking the kidnapper into fleeing when it becomes obvious Jack is being abducted, immediately calling the police and staying with the boy until the cops arrive.
  • Barefoot Captives: Ma and Jack have no shoes in Room; to emphasise to Old Nick how low-maintenance they are, Ma says "we don't even need shoes". Jack has to make his escape in his socks: Ma tells him to wear his thickest pair.
  • Birthday Hater: Jack is not a birthday hater and is excited to be five years old. However, for Ma, each birthday simply reminds her of how much of her life she has been held captive by Old Nick.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jack and Ma escape Room, and eventually Jack's able to let go of his connection to it. Ma, however, will never truly be able to get over her years of imprisonment and abuse.
  • Blindfolded Trip: Ma mentions being blindfolded by Old Nick before taken to Room.
  • Bodybag Trick: Ma fakes five-year-old Jack's illness and death so he can escape when Old Nick takes him outside in a carpet to bury him. This is the only way either of them will be able to get out of Room.
  • Bookends: At the beginning, Jack says hello to all of the things in Room. At the end, they return to Room and Jack says goodbye to all the things in Room as well as Room itself before they leave to move on with their lives.
  • Broken Bird: Ma. It's made quite clear that her experience in Room has irreparably damaged her and turned her far more bitter than the sweet person she used to be. Word of God says that she will never really be able to truly get over it.
  • Bunker Woman: Ma, of course. Although the bunker is actually not underground, but in the garden.
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Due to not even knowing he's his father, Jack refers to his dad as Old Nick.
  • Carpet-Rolled Corpse: This is part of Ma's Bodybag Trick to help her and her son escape captivity.
  • The Cavalry: With a beat cop's brilliant questioning of Jack to locate Ma, the police storm the property in force to rescue her.
  • Censorship by Spelling: Ma's lawyer says (in front of Jack) that someone has sent F-E-C-E-S. Jack says "why has someone sent us poo?" "He's a good speller," Ma says to her lawyer.
  • Character Depth: It's a character study, so 3D.
  • Child by Rape: Jack was conceived when Old Nick raped Ma.
  • Clean, Pretty Childbirth: Averted. There's a stain on the rug from when Jack was born and another on the bed from his sister.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: While Jack is only five years old when the story ends, it is clear that he has changed much.
  • Companion Cube: Jack refers to everything in Room by name, such as TV, Skylight, and Eggsnake (a toy snake that Ma makes out of string and eggshells saved from their meals).
  • Compressed Adaptation: Though the film evenly splits time between Jack and Ma in Room and in the outside world, it leaves out much of the "slice-of-life" narrative of Room from the novel and a few characters from the second half. Events that took a while in the book also happen much faster in the movie, such as Jack helping the cop find where Room is.
  • Constantly Curious: Five-year-old Jack, despite Ma's education of him, is very naive and curious about the world, especially after they escape Room.
  • Cool Old Guy: Leo, Jack's step-grandfather, or "Steppa".
  • Death Faked for You: As part of their escape plan, Joy makes Old Nick believe that Jack died from the untreated illness so he would take the body outside.
  • Death of a Child: Ma mentions after the escape that she had another child, a daughter, who died when she was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. As a way to cope with this, she made herself believe that her stillborn daughter was actually Jack and that she decided to try to be born again a year later, this time as a boy.
    • Ma’s father had a funeral for her after some time when she did not return. But her mother refuses to believe she was dead.
  • Defiant Captive: Deconstructed. Ma is very defiant to Old Nick, whom she hates, but reality bites in that most of her more defiant plans have failed by the time Jack is five and she has little option but to play along most of the time - though she retains her defiant spirit.
  • Defiled Forever: Ma doesn't see herself as such, in fact the book implies she wasn't a virgin when she was kidnapped. But she gets quite irritable if someone sees her as this or even implies they do.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Old Nick threatens to leave them alone until they starve to death if Ma ever gives him trouble or tries to escape again.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Having lived indoors all his life, Jack has trouble wearing shoes outside.
  • Driven to Suicide: Ma eventually tries to kill herself, but survives.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Jack is frequently mistaken for a girl by strangers due to his long hair.
  • Extremely Protective Child: A realistic example. Jack hates being separated from Ma for any time and is quick to comfort her when she needs him. When she's Gone, he often tries taking care of her, such as making her food.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Old Nick at least possesses the lowest possible amount of humanity required to feel bad for Ma when he learns her five-year-old son just died.
  • Faking the Dead: Ma convinces Jack to do this so he can be rescued from Room.
  • First Time in the Sun:
    • Jack seeing the sky while riding in the back of the truck. The sensory overload of the uncomfortable brightness of the sun almost screws up the escape plan.
    • In the book, it's early evening and the dimming light doesn't bother him, he even thinks of the fresh air as "black air". But when he does go out in the sun a couple of days later, the light and the wind are all too much. It takes him a couple of weeks to get used to them, and he's still phobic about being rained on.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • During Old Nick’s visits he’ll occasionally complain about how things are getting too expensive. He lost his job six months ago and Ma realizes that she and Jack would be in real danger if his house is foreclosed, maybe even before it comes to that.
    • Ma's pain pills. At the beginning of the book, Jack explains the rule that Ma can only have two. This clues the audience into Ma's suicide attempt.
    • While explaining the outside world to Jack, Ma reveals that she was actually adopted. This comes back to bite her when the interviewer asks why Ma didn't do this for Jack when she grew up happy and well-adjusted despite being adopted.
    • Jack mentions that there’s a stain on the bed from when he was “born the first time.” Later, Ma tells Old Nick he can’t bury Jack’s body in the backyard before saying “You never should have done that.” These both foreshadow Ma’s stillborn daughter, who Old Nick buried in the backyard a year prior to Jack being born.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation:
    • Ma's years of isolation before Jack's birth was darkened by this; she left the TV on all day and started to believe that she heard it talk to her. Fortunately, she has a social outlet in Jack.
    • To explain the concept to Jack, Ma tells him a story about baby monkeys who were taken from their mothers by scientists and raised in isolation. They grew up physically normal, but did weird things like biting themselves. She may be referencing Harry Harlow's monkey experiments.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted. Ma mentions in the interview that she had an abortion about a year before she was kidnapped, and doesn’t regret it.
  • GPS Evidence: After Jack manages to escape Old Nick's clutches, an ordinary beat cop is able to locate and rescue Ma by gently interrogating a traumatized child to get a handful of vital clues such as the number of stops Old Nick's truck made, and that the building holding Ma is a shed with a skylight.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: The first half focuses on Ma and Jack’s life in Room and their escape. The second half is about them learning to adjust to the outside world.
  • Happily Adopted: Ma in the book. The interviewer uses this as a point of arguing that Ma should have given up Jack. It's unknown if this was the case for her brother or not. Nor is it clear if this is the case in the movie.
  • Hates Being Alone: Jack, having lived in a tiny room with his mother all his life, is very unhappy when he can't be with her.
  • Heroic BSoD: Ma understandably has many small ones while trapped inside Room, which Jack calls "being Gone" or (in the film) "having a Gone Day". She has a very bad one later after a televised interview, where the reporter blames her for raising Jack in the room instead of asking Old Nick to take him to a hospital; later, she attempts suicide.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Ma breaks down when she realizes that the only way for Jack to escape is to fake his death. If the police had not been able to locate her, it meant she would be trapped there for good and likely be left for dead.
  • Hollywood Law: Ma is reluctant to do the TV interview, but she and her lawyer agree that it would be good as it's for Jack's college fund and future. Conventional broadcast networks don't pay sources to appear on-camera – even people like Joy. It's considered vastly unethical. Documentaries may sometimes pay their sources, but this was a television broadcast. We can assume that she's thinking the interview will get more publicity and more donations, as her attorney's already explained a charitable fund was set up.
  • I Just Want to Be Free: Ma hates being trapped in Room, and plans to escape. Her wishes become more urgent after she learns Old Nick has been without a job for six months and, in danger of house foreclosure, might kill her and Jack to hide his crimes.
  • Improvised Weapon: Ma tries twice, once with a toilet seat lid and once with a butter knife. Both fail.
  • Important Haircut: Jack keeps his long hair for a while after escaping Room, saying that that's where his strength is. After Ma's suicide attempt, he gets a haircut, and in the film he explains this is so that Ma can have his strength.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: Since he's just five, Jack doesn't understand some of the things around him that are obvious to the reader. Most importantly, he doesn't realize that Old Nick regularly rapes his mother and that's how he was conceived.
  • Innocently Insensitive:
    • Due to Jack's age, he doesn't have a complete understanding of the full extent of what his Ma went through in Room, and will bring it up casually in conversation with people. Almost everybody understands this and try to brush it off. Although Ma, struggling with severe PTSD, temporarily snaps and loses her temper at a few points.
    • Ma gets in on this after they leave Room. She's all too willing and ready to put it behind her, but for Jack, all he's known is Room. As a result, Ma pushes Jack into trying things before he's ready (such as going outside) and denies Jack therapy he probably could have used to help him cope (such as for separation anxiety). At one point Ma even irritably asks Jack why he doesn't like it outside when he's been out of Room for two days.
  • Ironic Name: Ma's name in the movie is revealed to be Joy.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing:
    • Ma corrects someone after they call her stillborn daughter “it.”
    • Ma gets upset with her father when he says he can’t be around Jack because “it makes [him] shudder.” Ma tells him there is no “it” and that Jack is a five year old boy.
  • Kingpin in His Gym: Implied by the treadmill in Old Nick's house.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: When the novel was first released, it not solely being about Ma and Jack's escape was a subversive twist. But due to reviews and movie trailers not even trying to hide it, it's common knowledge half the plot focuses on them adjusting to the outside world.
  • Lies to Children: For the first four years of his life, Ma lies to Jack about the existence of other people, to protect him from understanding what they are deprived of. She later confesses this and "unlies" to tell him what's really going on.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Plays several times in the movie, underpinning Joy's state of mind.
  • Mama Bear: Ma, especially whenever Old Nick tries to get a look at Jack.
  • Meaningful Name: "Old Nick" is a slang term for Satan. Jack says he saw a cartoon where a guy by that name comes in the night, so he just started calling him that.
  • Minimalist Cast: Jack, Ma, and Old Nick are the only characters who appear in the first half of the novel.
  • Missing Child: What happened to Ma is every parent's worst nightmare - for seven years they had no idea where she was, what was being done to her and if she was even still alive. And then when she finally returns to them, she suffers from depression and tries to kill herself whilst they struggle to help her cope.
  • My Greatest Failure: Joy's dad cannot bear to look at Jack, as it's implied that for him, the boy represents his own failure at protecting his daughter. Fundamentally, he cannot cope with the fact that the boy was born out of the rape of his daughter, and psychologically, he cannot overlook this, to the point that he has to leave Joy to her mother's care and disappears for the rest of the story.
  • Named by the Adaptation: In the book, Jack often refers to people calling Ma by her "other name" but never reveals what it is. The movie names her Joy Newsome (so that Jack is, by extension, Jack Newsome).
  • No Name Given: The readers are never told what Old Nick's real name is. Same goes for Ma. In the movie, Ma has a name - Joy - but Old Nick doesn't.
  • No Periods, Period: Given their close living quarters, Jack would surely have to know about Ma's periods, yet they go unmentioned. Possibly justified, as Ma is breastfeeding and on birth control, both of which can halt menstruation.
  • Not Afraid of You Anymore: Ma expresses no fear of encountering Old Nick at his court hearing, wanting to look him in the eye to show him that he could not beat her.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Before Jack, Ma had another daughter by Old Nick who died when she was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.
  • The Outside World: The second part of the story deals with Jack entering the Outside World.
  • Paparazzi: They are harassed by these, including a helicopter that tries to take airborne photographs of the mother and child as they are walking on the grounds at the psychiatric hospital they stay at after their escape from Old Nick.
  • Parents in Distress: Jack tries to protect Ma from Old Nick after he ventures out of the wardrobe. He's also the only person who can help the police find her after he escapes.
  • Patched Together from the Headlines: Although admitedly inspired by the Fritzl case, the fictional kidnapping has some elements more in common with the earlier Natascha Kampusch case, such as it being a stranger abduction and Ma talking about her experience on TV. There were also rumors that Kampusch had a stillborn while in captivity and Priklopil buried it in his garden.
  • Race Lift: In the book, Jack is assisted in his escape and rescue of Ma by Ajeet, an Indian-American guy out walking his dog, and Officer Oh, an Asian-American policewoman. In the film, they are changed to Doug (a white guy) and Officer Parker (a black woman).
  • Rape as Drama: Sometimes, Ma makes Jack hide inside the wardrobe so he doesn't have to see what Old Nick is doing to her.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The author admitted the novel was originally inspired by the Fritzl case, and while it remains very, very different, certain aspects (the captor creating a small, soundproof cell which contained basic living conditions, the hostages being locked with a keypad, etc) seem to have been taken directly from the case.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • Shortly before Ma starts creating plans for the escape, one of her teeth falls out. Jack insists on keeping it, even after the escape and especially after Ma’s suicide attempt because it’s a bit of Ma. However, by the time they’re reunited, Jack’s lost the tooth. At that point in the book, he’s shown that he doesn’t need to be attached to Ma’s hip all the time.
      • It's implied he accidentally swallowed the tooth, since he likes to suck on it and often falls asleep while doing so. If so, the Rule of Symbolism is even stronger: whether he swallowed it or not, he believes he now has a small piece of Ma inside him forever. This assurance helps him to become more independent from the real Ma.
    • The last line of the book has Jack referring to Room's door as just "the door," which is the first time he's referred to something in Room by a noun rather than a name. This showcases how Jack is now ready to move on from Room.
  • Santa Claus: Back when Jack was still unaware of the outside world, he debates what is and isn’t real. Santa is one of the things he concludes is, as he gave them presents for Christmas.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: When Jack yells for help while being taken away by Old Nick, a nearby dog walker ends up growing too suspicious, eventually resulting in Old Nick tossing Jack onto the ground and speeding off in his car.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: This is how the police get Ma out of the Room once Jack tells them where she is.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sick Captive Scam: Ma and Jack fake that Jack is dying of a fever, then his death, in order to trick Old Nick into taking Jack outside where he can escape.
  • Small, Secluded World: Room is narrated by a 5-year-old who is unaware of anything outside the 11' x 11' room he lives in. Eventually, his mother reveals that they are locked in her kidnapper's garden shed.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: Averted. Social services do exist and immediately spring into action after they escape.
  • Stepford Smiler: Ma pretends to be very cheerful and grateful to Old Nick when he comes to Room at night, to keep him happy and to protect her son. She also tries to project a happy image to Jack. But she is still miserable being trapped in Room. Lampshaded when she is interviewed. She says "I did it on autopilot, you know, Stepford Wife."
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Averted with Ma, who loathes Old Nick. This doesn't keep some characters from trying to insinuate that she has this, though.
  • Stress Vomit: Ma at the end of the book when she and Jack visit Room one last time. This doesn’t happen in the movie where Joy seems to just have mixed feelings about it at worst.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: So much.
    • Jack's getting older and starts to notice a few things, such as the brand of pain killers they have in Room and the commercial for them. It's possible that Jack would have been asking more questions on his own if they were stuck in Room longer.
    • While Jack is healthy, given his circumstances, it doesn't change the fact that he's been locked in a shed his whole life. There’s a point after the escape where he needs six shots, presumably ones other children already had. He needs to wear sunglasses his first few times out in daylight, and a facemask until his body adjusts to its new surroundings. He’s easily overwhelmed by a gust of wind, doesn't like being rained on, and gets sunburned easily.
    • Jack has never been farther than a dozen feet from his mother and has never interacted with anyone else for his entire life, so he struggles to communicate with others and doesn't react well when he's separated from her.
    • To a point it seems like Ma expected her life to just pick up where it left off, just with Jack now. She gets a little irritated when people talk to her like she's been Defiled Forever, takes Jack to a crowded area of the clinic and outside before he's ready, gets testy about all the health precautions she and Jack need to take, refuses to get Jack therapy for separation anxiety which leads to the above, gets snippy with Jack when she thinks he'd rather be in Room when they've been out for barely a week, and the movie paints her as The Resenter when she's reminiscing about her friends from school and how they got to live their lives while she was stuck in a shed for seven years. As a result, she's easily Driven to Suicide, and Word of God confirms she'll never be truly over her ordeal.
    • It's implied that Ma's parents separated as a result of her disappearance. In missing persons cases the parents are usually the first suspects. And sure enough, the death or disappearance of a child puts enough strain on marriage to lead to divorce.
    • Ma's Defiant Captive tenancies only made her situation worse. Not only is Old Nick stronger than her, her attempts to physically attack him only made him angry. Sure enough during one of her escape attempts Old Nick damaged Ma's wrist bad enough that it still lingered by the time the story starts. And it's clear that Old Nick really thought about the set up, enough to install a door with key pad and put a wire fence under the foundation to prevent Ma from digging her way out. By the time Jack was born she had little choice but to play nice and placate Old Nick to keep herself and Jack safe.
  • That Thing Is Not My Child!: Ma loves Jack unconditionally, but her father rejects him, as he can't forget that Jack was conceived by rape. This in sharp contrast with Ma's mother, who immediately accepts her grandson.
  • There Are No Therapists: Played with. In the clinic, Ma basically starts talking to one especially after her suicide attempt. However, the doctor suggests that it's probably a good idea for Jack to get some therapy for separation anxiety and Ma immediately rejects it. Sometime later, Jack's response to "wait in the room" is to cling tighter to Ma, which leads to him hitting his head on a table in her attempt to get him off.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Most of the descriptions for the book at most hint half of the novel taking place after escaping Room. The trailers and descriptions for the movie, however, don’t even try to hide the fact that it does.
  • Two-Act Structure: The first half deals with a woman and her young son, both of whom have been prisoners for years. Then, halfway through the book and the film, they escape, and the story becomes about the two of them trying to adjust to normal lives.
  • Unconfessed Unemployment: Old Nick. It gets Foreshadowing in his complaints about how expensive things are.
  • Unnamed Parent: Jack always calls his mother "Ma" (and for a long time, he thinks that Ma is her name). He eventually learns that she has another name, but he never uses it. Averted in the movie, where her name is Joy Newsome.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Ma, especially in the movie, although she is not a villain at all. She calls out this trope almost by name when her mother criticizes her for being rude:
    Ma: I’m sorry if I’m not ‘nice’ enough for you. Maybe if you hadn’t been in my head saying ‘be nice’ that day I wouldn’t have gone to help him.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Emma Donoghue was given the idea for the novel from the Fritzl case. Ma is loosely based off Elisabeth Fritzl, who was held captive in a cellar for 24 years, Old Nick is inspired by her captor Josef, and Jack is based of Felix, who was also five years old when he first emerged from the cellar. However, Donoghue stated she dislikes people saying Room is “about” the Fritzl case, as the only thing she really took from it was a woman having to raise her young child in captivity.
  • Walking Spoiler: Ma’s stillborn daughter reveals she had a stillbirth in the first place.
  • Wham Line: "Then I see Ma's pill bottles open on the table, they look mostly empty. Never more than two, that's the rule, how could they be mostly empty, where did the pills go?"
  • Wicked Stepmother: Subverted with Leo; despite Ma being hostile to him at first, he's a far better and sweeter grandparent figure for Jack than his mother's father is. He and Jack have a good bond by the end of the book, when Jack considers him to be a "real grandparent" (which Ma hopes her own father will grow into being).
  • Wild Child: Discussed and averted. Jack is described by the media as a feral child, but Ma actually raised him quite well, despite their isolation.
  • Your Makeup Is Running: When Ma’s mother cries after seeing her daughter for the first time in seven years, Jack mentions her tears are black. Prior to that, he thought it was just a TV thing, as he had never seen someone cry while wearing makeup before.