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



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 there and has never been in the outside world. 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, is an  imaginary world – ‘magic TV land’.

The only time the mother is not present is when he is put in the closet one night a week, which 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 and 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, established by Freud; of different stages of psychological growth explained within the 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 sense’s 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 and the mother’s life.


Making sense of the world


We see Jack, the five year old, making sense of the world beyond his mother and ‘Room’, as 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 starting to learn 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.

No power/cutting the power

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

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


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 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.

As the movie goes on he starts to detach from the mother, identifying with others and learning self reliance, independence, and creating his own personality (Jack asks his grandmother to cut his long hair off, something that he refused to do previously, in order to care for his mother).



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 being able to sense the world and establishing our personality and ourselves independently within it.


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