Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in “Room.”
By Karen Butler
American actress Brie Larson has been winning awards all season for her heart-wrenching portrayal of a young kidnap victim raising her son in captivity, while plotting their escape in “Room.”
And further glory might yet await the big-screen adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s celebrated novel, which was helmed by the author’s fellow Dubliner Lenny Abrahamson from a script Donoghue penned herself.
The drama goes into Sunday’s Oscars ceremony with nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.
“It was very much a novel about motherhood for me,” Donoghue said at a recent Toronto International Film Festival press conference. “It was about that magical and, yet confining, bond that so many mothers and fathers experience these days.”
Despite the harrowing circumstances that lead to the imprisonment of her protagonists, Donoghue insisted she doesn’t regard “Room” as “that dark of a story.”
“The child is loved [by his mother.] That’s the thing,” the writer reasoned. “You are never seeing anyone being mean to that child. He’s getting a best-case-scenario of intense, 24-hours-a-day mother love. So, I think anyone who felt the story was dark at first, then they find their way through the dark tunnels to the light and the film has exactly the same, uplifting effect.”
So, was initially sparked the idea for the premise of her 2010 book?
“My children were 4 and 1 and I happened to hear about the  Fritzl case in Austria and I thought I would like to write a story about a child seeing our world for the first time, but I didn’t want to set it in Europe,” Donoghue explained, referring to a woman who was held captive for 24 years by her father, who repeatedly raped her and sired her seven children.
“I wanted it well away from the Fritzl case, so I thought, ‘Should it be Canada?’ And then I thought, ‘No,’ because two reasons: When they emerge into the outside world, I wanted them to be entering a society that just assumed it was the best place in the world. I thought America might do well for that,” she quipped. “I didn’t want anyone to be sort of self-deprecating in the outside world. I wanted that assumption of ‘Here you are; you’ve come to Utopia.’ And, also, I wanted them to be worried about healthcare, so I thought, ‘Can’t set it in Canada.’ So, I set it in pre-Obamacare America.”
Abrahamson, who was sitting beside Donoghue on the panel, confessed he aggressively pursued the project because he connected strongly to the material and felt he was the right director to bring it the screen.
“I read the novel a little bit after it came out and was -- like so many readers – just hugely captivated by it. I also have young children and my boy was about 4 when I read it,” he said, “so that I think just opened me up emotionally to what Emma had done in a particularly vivid way and I was presumptuous enough to think that I was the person who should turn this best-selling novel into a film.
“But I was, along with [producer] Ed Guiney and Element Pictures, who I worked with very closely in Dublin, we were sort of saying ‘Well, you know, maybe, maybe not.’ And then we heard that Obama had been pictured, coming out of a bookshop in Martha’s Vineyard, on his holiday with ‘Room’ under his arm and we thought: ‘Well, we are not going to get this novel. We are absolutely not going to get this novel.’"
Then Abrahamson wrote a long letter to Donoghue “and in it,” he recalled, “I sort of outlined what I felt the kind of inner logic of the novel was and how that might be translated into film and I also did my best to spoil any other bids by saying things like, ‘Of course people will say you should do the following, but that would be a terrible mistake.’ So, I was trying to second-guess the other pitches. But, eventually, Emma and I started to talk and we met and it has been an incredibly positive [experience.]”
“I could not resist his eloquence and intelligence. What can you do?” Donoghue remarked. “He just got it, you know? And, also, his previous films just broke my heart with their combination of artistic purity and human warmth. Because sometimes arthouse cinema can be kind of coldly cerebral, so to find an arthouse background combined with that human, burningly liberal impulse, it was just a unique combination I knew we needed for this film.”
Room, which also stars Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, William H. Macy and Joan Allen, will be issued on DVD on next Tuesday.