Room Author Emma Donoghue on Why Readers Will Leave the Movie Satisfied

2015 Toronto International Film Festival - "Room" Premiere
Photo: Dominik Magdziak Photography/WireImage

Canadian author Emma Donoghue released her book Room in 2010, and the dark, dramatic novel immediately became a must-read for lit lovers and book clubs around the world.

The book is told in the voice of its 5-year-old protagonist, Jack, who was born in captivity to his mother, Ma, who was kidnapped as a teenager and locked in a single-room shed. Jack was a result of her captor’s sexual abuse. Since its release, Room has sold two million copies, landed on the New York Times Best Seller list, and won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. So it was big news last year when it was announced that the book would be turned into a major movie starring Brie Larson as Ma and Jacob Tremblay as Jack.

As the author, Donoghue wanted the film to satisfy those most touched by the book—her readers. Therefore, she signed on to adapt her novel into the screenplay and restructure the story so it fit in the constraints of a movie’s running time. “I wanted to make sure the Room still refuses to show the psychopath,” she told InStyle when we caught up with her at the Toronto International Film Festival. “The crime is a premise to focus on the amazing strengths of this woman and her child, and her family. It’s all about the child of survivors. It individualizes them. It celebrates normality.”

What’s similar and what’s different from the book, we wondered? Scroll down to find out.

Some of the book’s characters got cut.
“There’s less time in a movie, so we tried to streamline the second half of the film. In the book, Ma comes home and she’s got a brother and his wife, and their child. We cut all them. We really focused on the emotional core, which is her, her mother, her father, and this new replacement stepfather.”

Room Film Still

The grandmother plays a bigger part than in the book.
“The role of the grandmother changed quite a bit once we cast Joan Allen. In the book, she’s a pretty flawed character and she’s pretty cauterized. As soon as we cast Joan, we made her nicer, more loving, more sincere, and more intelligent.”

There are no "good" sex scenes.
“The movie refuses to get all excited about the creepy, sex aspects of the captivity. The moment you first see the captor, he drops his pants, and you see these knobby knees. It takes all of the eroticism and excitement out of the situation. I think it’s a wonderfully fresh perspective on these situations.”

She wanted to make sure this was a woman-centered project.
“For me, it was important to show the idea of a woman who has been raped or abused and is not fundamentally destroyed by it. I think it’s a hugely life-affirming film. Readers always write to me, and it’s not just those who have been raped or abused. Sometimes it’s people who are raised in cults and feel like they have to escape and shake off their pain as a child. This movie really shows that, particularly through having children, you can change patterns. You can start all over again. You can do it right.”

Strange as the story may be, she thinks you can relate.
“There are so many equivalents of the situation of when it’s awkward to be around family that we’ve all been in. For example, an awkward Christmas when there’s some unspoken pregnancy, or addiction or problem, and you’re all trying to work around that and be family. We never saw it as a freaky, true crime drama. We always tried to find those universal family dynamics.”

Watch the trailer for Room here:

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