A psychotherapist's perspective on Jack from Room

Jonathan Hoban 30 November -0001

Room is a film making waves in 2016. It follows the story of five-year-old Jack, who has never seen the world outside of the room in which he is held captive. Psychotherapist Jonathan Hoban provides insight into the child's emotional journey.

Inspired by the notorious Josef Fritzl, Room is about five-year-old Jack, and his mother Joy, who are held captive by a man referred to as  Old Nick. The pair are held captive in a room, and Jack has never experienced the outside world, until one day, Joy and her son escape. 

We asked psychotherapist Jonathan Hoban from Creative Counselling to provide his expert analysis into Jack’s emotional journey and development in Room.


Inside the room


"Good morning plant, good morning chair number 1, good morning chair number 2, good morning table, good morning wardrobe, good morning sink... good morning skylight."


Near the beginning of the film we see a 5-year-old boy, Jack, greeting good morning to the room in which he and his mother are held captive. Having been born in 'room', Jack knows nothing else, and nothing of the existing world outside.

Jack’s main attachment figure is his mother, with whom he shares an unconditional bond. Other than this, the only other attachment figures in Jack’s life are the inanimate objects that surround him. A common response to seclusion is to create an imaginary companion or surrogate object that can meet a relational need without having to manage some of the complexities and challenges that some real human relationships require.


Jack and his mother Joy

Here we see a young child pour spirit, imagination, into the inanimate objects around him––such as chair, wardrobe, skylight, table, spoon and sink––bringing them to life in a way that he can relate and make sense of them in his 'inner world'.

These objects are otherwise known in as 'transitional objects', 'comfort objects' or 'attachment objects'. These provide Jack with a sense of safety, security, consistency, emotional, and spiritual survival, taking on a more familial role next to his mother 'Ma'.


“Jack reminds us all that our imagination and creativity can indeed provide us with a sense of inner freedom”


We have witnessed this behaviour once before in the film Cast Away, when we see Tom Hanks forge a relationship with Wilson, a ball on which he draws a face and develops in his mind a surrogate companion as a means of spiritual, emotional and psychological survival.

We see the necessity and importance of Jack’s imaginary world when Ma shouts out of frustration "He's not real" in relation to Jack’s imaginary dog, 'Rocky'. In this moment we see the imaginary world that protects and comforts Jack crumble, and he starts to feel threatened by his mother’s reality.

Within the limited landscape and confined space of room, Ma helps to create a world for Jack that doesn’t see the limitations of the four walls that surround his one-dimensional world, where his imagination knows no bounds and has no parameters.

It is only when the electricity in room is cut off that Ma's safety needs are threatened by the cold that enters their domain, and she realises she needs to protect herself and Jack by leaving the shed they are currently trapped in. It is at this point that Jack feels forced to leave a space he feels safe in, into a world that is unfamiliar.

Watch our interview with Author of Room, Emma Donoghue and Director Lenny Abrahamson


The outside world

Jack and Joy leave the Room

Where Jack had control and stability surrounded by his attachment figures in the shed, in the outside world Jack feels out of control. Being forced to leave the shed—a womb-like environment in which he was born—Jack starts to be exposed like a newly born infant to the world outside.

Here, Jack experiences new faces, objects and sounds that he's never heard before and therefore doesn't understand. At this juncture, he seems to feel unsafe; his world has suddenly become a little more frightening and strange as he is stripped from his attachment figures in room and his main caregiver Ma.

In room, where there is little stimuli, Jack has more of control over his imagination and power to bring simple objects to life. With more complex stimuli in the outside world this in a sense allows less room for Jack's imagination to thrive as he starts to feel overwhelmed, over-stimulated and disempowered.



"Being forced to leave the shed—a womb-like environment in which he was born—Jack starts to be exposed like a newly born infant to the world outside."


Having escaped captivity and now in his mother’s family home, we see Jack whisper at the dinner table, and lose his voice in company, only to regain it in the confined space of his mother’s bedroom when it's just the two of them, since this is more in alignment with his old environment in the shed. His mother remains central to Jack's feeling of emotional stability throughout the film.

When Jack meets a real dog for the first time, this starts to challenge the imaginary world in which he lived for so long. We see for the first time that Jack is able to consider the possibility of forming new connections and regaining a sense of power.

We see him trying to make sense of his two conflicting worlds as he begins to overcome any 'memory distortion' that may have taken place whilst growing up in such a confined, secluded space.

Ultimately, we see through a child's mind the importance of transitional objects and how, in the framework of the world that Ma helped to create in room, they provided Jack with an opportunity to explore and develop relationships through the power of his imagination that provided him with a sense of safety, hope and strength during his time in captivity.

Jack reminds us all that our imagination and creativity can indeed provide us with a sense of inner freedom should we choose to utilise this part of our psyche, where at times we can often find ourselves being trapped by our own negative thoughts.  

Buy the original novel Room, shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize