5 ways Room (Movie) draws parallels to the Oedipus complex

room movie Therapy in London


I recently saw, ‘Room‘ (Original novel and screenplay by Emma Donoghue) which follows the story of a mother and son (Jack, aged 5) trapped in a room by a male abductor.


The story is told from the perspective of the 5-year-old who was born in the room. He has lived within the confines of the four walls his entire life.  His only relationship is with his mother, who gives her undivided attention; cooks cleans and cares for him.  He makes sense of the outside world through 2 or 3 TV channels, which to him, ‘magic TV land’.

The only time the mother is not present is when he is put in the closet one night a week. This is when the abductor comes into abuse his mother, as he sleeps.

The boy inevitably wakes up and the mystery, tension and unknowing is seen on screen. He is trying to make sense of questions; such as why does my mother hide me in the cupboard? Who is this man who comes once a week?

As I was watching the film I could not help but relate the boy’s transition to the theories of Freudian Oedipus complex.


Oedipus complex

To give a very brief description of the Oedipus complex.


As an infant, you are solely reliant on your mother. She is your world and you gain everything from her, from food and nourishment to love and affection. As your senses are not fully developed, this is your sole understanding of the world around you. As your senses start to develop and mature, Freud saw the infant starting to make sense of the world in his imagination. You begin to try to understand the mother’s undivided attention between you and the father figure.  First fighting with, before relenting to, the influence and power the father inevitably has on the infant world.


Making sense of the world

We see Jack, the five-year-old, making sense of the world beyond his mother and ‘Room’.  An imaginary world made up of magic.

It is almost like an infant who is starting to see around him, so makes up a story in their imagination to understand what is going on (“TV world consists of flat people made of light”). There is nothing outside the four walls, his mother and the mystery man (Old Nick) who steals her attention away from him once a week.


‘The father’

Freud would see the abductor’s visits as the infant learning that there are others besides him in the world. It is a mysterious unknown figure yet plays a huge part in the infant’s life. This figure (the abductor in the film but ordinarily the father) is where the mother goes, and so too nourishment affection and love.

There is a chilling scene in which Jack is listening to his mother and the abductor having sex, not understanding what is happening, what his mother is doing, and yet too scared to look through the slats of the door of the cupboard to see, so his distracts himself by doing times tables or counting his teeth.

There is a moment of transition, however, showing mediated feelings and self-reliance, where which Jack goes over to the bed to see who this man is, trying to make sense of why he has the power to steal his mother away from him.

Cutting the Power

The power the Father has over Jack’s life is shown when the abductor literally turns off the power off in the room. Doing so when the mother threatens the abductor.

It is a stark reminder of the power the abductor has on the life of the child. Mirroring the fight the child has with his father and the father’s power that inevitably triumphs for the mother’s attention.


Birth of the senses: Understanding the world

As mother and child are freed from Room, we start to see how Jack starts making sense of the world.

Jack starts to see new objects that he only heard about from his mother, or seen in a limited way through the TV set in Room.

I liken it to the way an infant’s senses develop throughout infancy into childhood. The imaginary world no longer rings true as we can now start to see the world around us.


Self-reliance and personality

With our new found understanding of the world, we can start to develop our own sense of personality (Freud created the theory of personality which he saw being born the Oedipus complex, in 1923).

As Jack starts to live in the real world he starts to understand that his identity is not linked so heavily to his mother.

He starts identifying with others and learning self-reliance, independence, and creating his own personality. For examples, he asks his grandmother to cut his long hair off. His hair is linked to his past identity and something that he refused to do previously.


Freud gave us the Oedipus complex as a way of understanding our transition through infancy, into our childhood and beyond. Room mirrors this process, showing the Oedipal development in Jack throughout the film. Showing how we cling to the mother when we know nothing else.  Before  establishing our personality and ourselves independently within it away from our parental caregivers

Therapy in London