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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Room With No View

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday November 12, 05:38 pm
Emma Donoghue’s novel is just as good on the big screen

ROOM
Coming soon
Roxy

The superb drama Room digs into the psychological and physical consequences of horrific abuse — and it does so through the eyes of Jack, a five-year-old boy whose entire existence has been spent in captivity, along with his mother (Brie Larson, brilliant once again).

Jack doesn’t know anything about the outside world. Aside from his mother, the only other human he’s aware of is Old Nick, the man who kidnapped his mother seven years ago, when she was a teenager, and who raped her repeatedly — which means that in the technical sense, he’s Jack’s father. Mom does as much as possible to give Jack a normal childhood under such extreme circumstances, but at age five, the walls of the single room that has encompassed his entire life thus far seem to be closing in.

The film, directed with remarkable dexterity by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank), is based on the Booker Prize-finalist novel by Emma Donoghue. The Irish-Canadian writer put the changing perceptions of young Jack at the centre of her tale, a tricky narrative device that works both on the page and on film. Donoghue adapted her book for the screen, and she’s done a wonderful job, instantly becoming a frontrunner for the Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award.

I had the chance to talk over the phone with Donoghue. Genial and candid, the writer is eager to share credit with Lenny Abrahamson and speak of his experience, not at all as she imagined it would be (much, much darker).

 

What was the hardest aspect of turning your book into a screenplay?

When I started to adapt Room, I read a lot of books on scriptwriting. They were very firm on certain “rules,” which I later realized could be dropped. That was very liberating. Room is a very oddly shaped thing — a hybrid kind of drama with crime-film elements. Thankfully, Lenny wasn’t scared of the idea of spending the first 45 minutes inside the room. He didn’t try to escape it or break it up with flashbacks or fantasy sequences.

 

Did you have to be convinced to allow your book to be adapted to the big screen?

I wanted it to be a film, but I was very cautious about whom to sell the rights to. I was concerned it could be made very sentimental, or sexually prurient and voyeuristic. I’m so happy I went with Lenny Abrahamson. It also ended up being an Irish-Canadian coproduction, and I couldn’t be happier about that, too: They’re my two homelands. It was filmed in Toronto, near where I live, so I got to visit the set a lot. It was a dream experience.

 

Did you see Frank (Abrahamson’s previous film, with Michael Fassbender) before working with Abrahamson?

When I first met Lenny, I was concerned that someone seemed to die in all his movies. Frank was his proof to me that he could make a movie without casualties. Since the beginning of his career, he’s been able to find humour in dark situations. Lenny is also not constrained by the rules of American cinema: He’s not afraid to keep a famous star under a paper head. Lenny shared my belief that, if you see the world through a child’s eyes, it’s always going to be fresh.

 

Did you have offer input when you visited the set?

I was careful to keep my mouth shut. You wait until lunch break — when the director is well-fed — and you whisper something in his ear. They gave me a huge amount of input — not only in casting and locations, I was able to see the dailies and send notes by e-mail. I kept expecting being exploited by the film industry and it never happened.

Watching actors film the words that you’d written had to be an impactful experience.

I was so shaken by how small [the set] was. I stepped into it and thought, “This is ludicrous! You couldn’t live seven years here! My idea was totally implausible!” But from Jack’s perspective, it doesn’t look that small. The room also looked a lot uglier than I expected, because [in the novel] I was seeing it from Jack’s point of view and he doesn’t notice that everything is grubby and worn away. Film is more objectively naturalistic, and it was a real pleasure for me to discover what new truths were told by this medium.

 

When you were writing the screenplay, was there any aspect of the book that you realized wouldn’t translate to film?

In the second half of the book there’s room for Jack to do a lot of social observation, but in the film we clamp into the central family drama and many details had to be shed. But it’s not about counting pages — it’s about whether a film manages to capture the essence.

 

The story has clearly touched a nerve with audiences. How do you explain its popularity?

I was enormously lucky to hit on a story that allows for a lot of interpretations — the story of a mother raising a child in a locked room works for different readers at different levels. Some of them take it as a birth allegory, [a story] of how all human beings grow up in a little space — “room” sounds like “womb” — and move into a bigger world. 

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