Is ‘Room’ based a true story? The true crime behind the film


2015 saw the release of the film Room, starring Brie Larson. In the film, Brie plays Joy Newsome, a woman in her mid-20s abducted seven years ago by a man dubbed Old Nick. Newsome’s son, Jack, resulted from the forced sexual encounters between Nick and his captive. 

Joy lives in a shed she and Jack called ‘Room’, which features a makeshift kitchen, television, bathtub, toilet, bed, and a skylight. She convinces Jack that everything he sees on television is fake and reality only exists in their cell. Fortunately, the pair escapes, giving Jack a taste of life outside ‘Room’ for the first time. 

Room was inspired by the real-life abduction of Elisabeth Fritzl by her father

Elisabeth Fritzl
The basement where Elisabeth was captive for 24 years | Reuters

The creators of Room based the film on a novel by Emma Donoghue with the same name. Donoghue’s inspiration for the book was the abduction of Elisabeth Fritzl by her father.

In 2008, it emerged that Josef Fritzl had held his daughter Elisabeth hostage for 24 years in his home in Austria. Josef has fathered seven children with Elizabeth: three lived with Elisabeth, three Josef raised alongside his wife, Rosemarie, and one died shortly after birth. 

Elisabeth couldn’t escape the cellar due to the electric locks placed by Josef. Furthermore, the windowless room didn’t let in any daylight. Josef told people that Elisabeth had run away to join a cult. 

Elisabeth’s salvation came after her eldest daughter, Kerstin, fell ill. Josef took her to the hospital, where the doctors requested her mother come forward to provide Kerstin’s medical history. Following desperate pleas by Elisabeth, he allowed her and her sons Stefan and Felix from the cellar. 

Fritzl initially refused to talk to the police after they detained her. However, after promising they would protect her from Josef, Elisabeth narrated her 24-year ordeal. Authorities charged Josef with rape, manslaughter, incest, and false imprisonment. He pleaded guilty to all charges and received a sentence of life imprisonment. 

Donoghue said on The Late Late Show that the notion of growing up in a locked room came from the Fritzl case. She looked at her young children and imagined what it would be like to raise them in a concealed space. Donoghue told The Guardian that the Fritzl case inspired her book:

“To say Room is based on the Fritzl case is too strong. I’d say it was triggered by it. The newspaper reports of Felix Fritzl [Elisabeth’s son], aged five, emerging into a world he didn’t know about, put my idea into my head. That notion of the wide-eyed child emerging into the world like a Martian coming to Earth: it seized me”