What do Josef Fritzl, Ariel Castro, and Old Nick have in common? It is the fact that they all kidnapped young women, placed them in a room, imprisoned them there for a number of years, raped and starved them, but were eventually caught and convicted to life imprisonment. The only difference is that Fritzl and Castro are real people, while Old Nick is a fictional character from Emma Donoghue’s novel, Room, which was subsequently made into a film with the same title. Donoghue’s book was also inspired by the Fritzl case – he kept his own daughter in a cellar for 24 years and fathered seven children with her.
Watching the film Room, one can’t help but recall the shocking stories of Fritzl and Castro, and the ordeal that the women they kidnapped had to go through.
Room introduces us to Ma (Brie Larson) and her son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who just turned five years-old. The room is actually a shed on the backyard of Old Nick’s compound. We learn that Ma is actually Joy Newman who has been in that shed for seven years. When she was seventeen, she was tricked by Old Nick that his dog fell down somewhere and that it needed help. She helped him, but as a result she got trapped. She eventually got pregnant, but she decided to keep her child claiming later in an interview that her son is nobody’s but hers. She has developed a certain co-existence with her captor because he brings necessary items like food and clothes for survival, but for her son, Old Nick is someone you had better stay away from and avoid. Every night when Old Nick comes to sleep with her, she would place Jack in the wardrobe. When Old Nick showed an interest to Jack, she was very protective. They had managed to escape, but after seven years of being caged in a tiny windowless room, Joy found the world too much to take in.
This film does not show the harrowing details of being imprisoned in a room, since it is told from the point of view of a child. One can catch the fragmented cinematic movement in the film as Jack’s playfulness and imagination are emphasized. Proving to be resourceful, Ma used eggshells and tissue rolls as toys for Jack. Ma’s fierce love for her son, Jack allowed the boy to grow up with fondness for literature and much gumption. When Ma came up with a bold plan for escape, it was through Jack that it was materialized. When Ma decided to take an overdosage of pills, it was Jack who discovered her and called for help. That tie that connects the mother and son, akin to an umbilical cord is stressed without so much drama.
Larson and Tremblay gave such outstanding performances here. Tremblay’s acting is so innocent and raw that it feels like he is not acting at all. Joan Allen as Ma’s mother also gave brilliant supporting act by displaying a range of emotions from relief, anger, and guilt. If there is one downside to this film, it is casting William H. Macy as Ma’s Dad. He overplayed the part, and the script could have given him more speaking parts more than just his saying sorry over and over again.
Fritzl, Castro, and Old Nick also have another thing in common. The women they have kidnapped managed to successfully escape and lived to tell their tales. Room will give you a glimpse of what it means to be in their shoes.