A Monster Calls

 

            This is a visually beautiful film, because of the use of water color-type CGI graphics.  It's based on a children's story book, but it's definitely not all lollipops and rainbows.  In fact, the lemonade is quite bitter at times, but that's part of the point.

            Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is at that awkward in-between age:  too old to be considered still a kid, but too young to be regarded as a man.  Things haven't been going so well at school for him lately: there's a bully who seems to single him out for harrassment after class, and he brings along a couple of thug buddies just to further enjoy the public humiliation.

            Conor's a quiet kid who sticks to himself.  He's very close to his Mum (Felicity Jones), who loves him completely and unconditionally, but the problem is that she's sick.  And getting sicker.  Conor is understandably in a panic about her illness, and grasps at straws about the latest treatment just as she does.  But they both know she continues to get worse.  Conor keeps having this recurring nightmare where he's holding on to his Mum's hand as she's about to fall off a cliff.  But he can't pull her up and her hand starts slipping away.  And then he wakes up.

            All Conor can do to cope is take refuge in his artistic talent, which is considerable.  Apparently he inherited that from his Mum.  His Dad is mostly absent.  Though they are all English, he moved to the United States and married someone else and has another child, so obviously his attention is limited.  But it's more than that;  his Dad (Toby Kebbell) literally tells Conor that there's no room for him at his house in California.  The only other family that Conor has is his Grandma (Sigourney Weaver), but she's not exactly a bundle of cozy warmth, either.  She's humorless and controlling and emotionally distant and isn't a big part of Conor's life.

            Conor, left to his own devices to deal with his emotional difficulties, summons a monster out of his imagination, who comes out of the huge yew tree in the back pasture.  The monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) doesn't coddle Conor, but pushes him to face his anger and his guilt and his angst, and to tell people the truth, even those closest to him.  Especially those closest to him.

            This isn't the first “imaginary friend” plot device ever utlized, but it is uniquely developed.  All the performances add to the impact, including newcomer Lewis MacDougall and the new face of Star Wars, Felicity Jones. This movie takes seriously the complexities of grieving, which makes it not just an entertainment venue, but even a possibility for film-therapy usage with emotionally-bereft kids.  Now that's a movie worth making.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Have you ever had an “imaginary friend,” or known someone who did?  Was it beneficial?

2)                  How much should kids be told about the health situation of their parents?  How much do parents have a right to retain their own privacy?

3)                  Is it possible for a divorce to not have a negative emotional impact on a kid?  If so, under what circumstances?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association