A MONSTER CALLS – the story of a son and grief

by Ruby Chingu

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What is it all about? 

The story of a son and grief.

Prior to watching the movie, I had no clue what A Monster Calls is all about. A friend wanted to watch it and out of boredom, I tagged along with him. What I did not expect was to almost bawl my eyes out, crying and had tears streaming down my cheeks by one and half hour into the movie.

It struck a terribly personal chord within me, the movie, this supposedly children’s movie about imaginary monster and fairy tales.

Oh, children films. I look down on you no more.

It tells the tale of Conor, a young boy whose mother is dying of a terminal disease. To say that his life is pathetic is an understatement. Our Connor has no friends, gets bullied in school, teachers do not give a shit about him and has a strained relationship with his grandmother, a strict blunt elderly woman. Worse, he has been suffering bouts of insomnia or sleep deprivation – he would be visited by the same nightmare each time he closes his eyes. He finds solace in drawing (don’t they all?) dark figures and characters, living in his own world.

In front of his house was a gigantic yew tree, an ancient tree located at the top of the hill. One fated night, the tree turned into a monster (more like a walking wooden figurine, to be honest), came to his house and declared (in his commanding Liam Neeson voice) that he would be paying Connor four visits – he would also be telling Connor three tales and wanted the latter to tell him the fourth tale. After a few times dismissing this experience as a delusion, Connor began to accept it as a reality. Now, the stories told by the monster – I initially thought it would be the usual good vs bad lot – prove to be so much more than that. Each of the stories were of good characters who ended up doing evil things. They were of death, power, retribution, faith and so on. That the line that separates both good and evil is indeed blurry after all, showing us how complex humans can be.

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I was mind blown right away.

The climax of the story is when it was Connor’s turn to tell the fourth tale. I was a bit confused at first – now why would the monster want Connor to do that? What tale was he talking about? Only when Connor finally confessed it that I was like – whoahhh! Damn!! This is dark shit! But beautifully written shit! But dark, nonetheless.

Clue – All of Connor’s struggles go back to the most important person in his life.

Why I love the movie –

  1. Writing, pace and overall tone

The director did not shy away from making the film dark right away. Despite it being a children’s film, there was no effort to make it all rainbows and unicorn, as if saying – some childhood can be dark and this is one of it. Dark does not mean bad, though. Dark means reality, strength and character.

The shots of the vast English countryside contributed greatly to the mood. The music is often dramatic and stretched, an indication of Connor’s heightened emotions as his mother was nearing her death.

2. Acting 

Connor is played by a young actor, Lewis MacDougall, who is so on my radar. Lewis’s big intense eyes expressed the conflicts he kept suppressed in him so well that he needed no words to convey what he felt. Connor’s life is all about being someone he is not out of necessity. Connor is a young boy in need of his mother’s love yet he has to wake up every morning, prepares his own breakfast, does the family laundry and takes care of his own self while his mother is fighting cancer. He also pretends to be calm – at school, he barely says a word. Yet deep inside was a boiling heart filled with rage, grief and sadness.

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And the mother – the spiritual core of the story, I’d say – is none other than Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything, Star Wars – Rogue One). The final scene where she looked at the monster in the eyes as her son hugged her on her deathbed is profound. That was when my heart screamed, “you can see him! You know him! Good God, did you send him?”

3. Grief, Bereavement, Loss, Acceptance and Strength

Watching this film in the cinema was indeed an emotional journey for me. It wrecked me and, I’m quite sure, other audiences who have experienced loss. Connor was the avatar used by the director to relate to us these emotions that bind us together. With his mother battling cancer, he is not only robbed of his guardian but also his childhood, sense of security, happiness and trust (for he has an asshole father who left his mother and visits him only a few times a year). However, at the end of the movie, Connor learnt to accept all of these struggles instead of fighting against or denying them.

I believe that the monster is a form of his mother – a being created by her to help him deal with her pending death and the guilt that comes with the desire for all of his sufferings to end. In a way, his mother is telling him, “It is alright to want the pain to be over, Connor.”

Deep, people, so deep.

 RATING: 4/5

Because it deserves it. It is a great watch. It teaches me to not underestimate the experiences of a child and the power of everything between good and evil.

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