The BFG

            Steven Spielberg is known for his casting skills, but this one suffers a bit from the 12-year-old lead character being not quite charming enough to trigger our empathy and affection.

            Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) is an insomniac British girl who lives in an orphanage in London.  She roams the rambling place at night, unable to sleep, and sometimes reads books and other times checks the door locks, and hides under her blanket during bed check.  One night she looks out the window and seems an enormous giant, standing out in the street.  He’s three stories tall.  He’s also kind of goofy-looking, very skinny with a receding hairline and scraggly sideburns and huge ears that cover both sides of his head.  She speaks sharply to him, as she already has to the drunks staggering home from the nearby bar.  He responds by reaching in the open window and snatching her out of her bed and carrying her off to his big house in the wilds.

            Sophie is scared, of course, but she fusses at the giant, anyway, and says he won’t be able to keep her because she’ll run away, and he assures her that won’t help, because she won’t be able to get home on her own, anyway.  But even that much dialogue alerts Sophie that this big, awkward giant really isn’t planning to eat her, after all.  More like keeping her as a pet.  But she has no patience for that, either, and promptly climbs out the window the first chance she gets, only to find herself in the midst of a bunch of sleeping giants out in the field.  They turn out to be bigger and meaner than her own big, friendly, giant---whom she nicknames “BFG” (the voice of Mark Rylance). They even come over to BFG’s house and bully him, insisting he turn over his treasure---Sophie---so they can eat her.

            Sophie asks BFG why he doesn’t fight back, and it seems that basically he’s a pacifist.  What he’s really interested in doing is capturing dreams----in a special place in Giant Land where he can do that. (Think about capturing Tinkerbell in a bottle in “Peter Pan”.)  The BFG labels his captured dreams, and then returns to a late-night London to send the dreams to the sleeping people.  The pleasant ones he likes to give to children.  (It’s possible that Mr. Spielberg presents this as a metaphor for what he does as a filmmaker.)

            Sophie takes it on herself to solve the BFG’s problem with bullies by appealing directly to the Queen (Penelope Wilton of “Downton Abbey” fame), who sends out a troop of soldiers to capture the giants and banish them to a rocky, deserted island in the Irish Sea.  (It’s a supposedly non-violent solution, until you think about how they are going to survive there.)

            The charm of this movie is actually, the BFG, with his malapropisms, and his peace-loving demeanor and his mission of spreading dreams to children.  It’s a good story, and it will be a hit, but it won’t be a home run, because the main character just doesn’t fire up the imagination.

Questions for Discussion:

1)                   If you could give someone a dream, what would it be?

2)                  Banishing the bad giants is a little bit like casting the Devil into the lake of fire in Revelation (20:10).  Do you envision evil being banished in God’s future?

3)                  The Queens calls the White House and speaks to Nancy, telling her to “go wake Ronnie.”  What era of American Presidency would you have chosen?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Associaiton