Emma Donoghue’s novel, inspired no doubt by the likes of the Josef Fritzl case in Austria, 2008, has been rewritten by the author herself for the screen. It’s a mighty challenging undertaking and benefits to some degree by not being ‘based on a true story’ even if the inspiration was so obviously horrifically apparent.
It tells the tale of a young mother, credited as ‘Ma’ but actually known as Joy (how ironic) played to Oscar winning standard by Brie Larson and her five year old son, Jack, who was born in captivity some time after Joy was absconded by a man entrapping her with the aid of a sick puppy.
Thus begins Joy’s nightmare.
At some point Jack is conceived at the hands of her rapist jailor, Old Nick, played by Sean Bridgers. (It’s a casting that may have given him some personal nightmares because he’s not what you could describe as a sympathetic character). It’s fair to say that although Ma tolerates Nick’s visitations, she has to to protect her child and to be fed, no Stockholm Syndrome has developed.
The movie begins on or around Jack’s fifth birthday.
Jack has never left the room in which he was conceived and into which he entered his insular world. He knows no place other than this, has never experienced any weather (or air even), never played with other children, never been admonished for fear of upsetting a very delicate ecology between him, his mother and the ‘room’ where they live.
Aside from the nightly visitations of Old Nick for the daily rape of his mother he knows no other human being.
Ma and Jack have a TV, so Jack has a perverse awareness of the ‘world’ but it’s seen through juddering images and is as real to him as martians are to you and I.
But somehow Ma and Jack soldier on.
We catch them at the end of Ma’s tether. After five years of protecting Jack from the fact that they live in a parallel existence she’s decided it’s time for the facts of life and so begins a plan to escape. You’ll have seen the trailers so you’ll know that ultimately the escape bid is succesful and so begins the painful psychological process of leaving an almost feral yet totally sheltered existence into a world that’s overwhelming.
Relationships in the family have moved on in the years since Joy’s disappearance. Mum and Dad, although both still alive cope in very different ways. The media go mad for the story, Joy finds the whole thing extremely difficult to cope with and we spend a very moving hour or so watching them come to terms with an existence that’s completely alien to Jack and totally overwhelming for Joy.
This is a life affirming movie. It’s directed with great skill and sensitivity by Lenny Abrahamson and in Brie Larson and five year old Jacob Tremblay we can pretty much believe that this is not fiction but very real reality.
A remarkable film that deserves all the awards that are about to come its way.