A Monster Calls Parent Review
Although this beautifully crafted film doesn't offer many words of solace for someone with a seriously ill loved one, it does at least solicit empathy for their difficult situation.
It is 12:07 AM and Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is still awake. Too old to be a boy, but too young to be a man, the ‘tween draws in his sketch book late into the evening hoping to forget the bullying he faces at school and the worries for his sick mother (Felicity Jones) that consume him at home. He is also avoiding going to bed where nightmares torment his sleep.
At that dark hour the boundaries between reality and imagination can sometimes blur. Perhaps that explains why the ancient yew in the churchyard that he can see from his bedroom window suddenly uproots itself, stomps across the cemetery that separates the tree from his house, and stops in his back garden. Then, the face peering out of the mass of branches calls Conor by name and informs the terrified youngster that he has come to have him listen to three stories. In return, the monster expects Conor to share a truth with him. (This is a command, not a request.)
Over the next few weeks, the yew tree occasionally comes to life and shares his tales. Not sure if the wooden creature is friend, foe or partner in crime, Conor’s attempts to make sense out of his fables which challenge the boy’s understanding of justice and trust. Meanwhile he is also dealing with repeated harassment from his school peers (James Melville, Dominic Boyle, Oliver Steer) and watching his mum’s hopes for healing fade. His feelings of isolation only increase after a visit from his estranged father (Toby Kebbell) whose crowded life has little room for Conor’s big needs, and a forced stay with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) who is absorbed in her own fears of losing a child.
This movie is based on a children’s novel written by Patrick Ness. The author’s inspiration came from a story idea jotted down by Siobhan Dowd, a writer diagnosed with cancer who passed away before her story was completed. With this heritage, I was anticipating a film that might guide others who are traveling upon similar troubled waters.
But that is not what A Monster Calls offers. Instead, powerful performances capture the anguish a person caught in such a plight might experience. The graphic design of the monster is amazing, and the artistic decision to depict the tree’s stories in beautiful water colored animation is brilliant. And when Conor eventually confesses his “truth”, I suspect anyone who has ever watched a loved one suffer will concur with his admission.
Because of the frightening images, metaphorical moral messages too mysterious for even adults to confidently interpret, depictions of cruelty, an implied beating and possible justification for vandalism, this movie isn’t appropriate for younger audiences. While I was a little disappointed it didn’t provide more words of solace or guidance for those navigating this kind of sorrow, I did at least appreciate the empathy it solicited for those who journey along uncertain and lonely roads at any hour of the night or day.Directed by J.A. Bayona. Starring Lewis McDougall, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson . Running time: 108 minutes. Theatrical release January 6, 2017. Updated March 28, 2017
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in A Monster Calls here.
A Monster Calls Parents Guide
This movie is based on a children’s novel written by Patrick Ness. He also penned the screenplay. Ness’s story idea came from Siobhan Dowd, an activist and author who was diagnosed with cancer, and died before this project could be completed.
What do you think the monster in this movie represents? What lessons do you learn from the stories the tree tells? How do you feel about the truth Conor confesses? What words of comfort would you want to share with someone in Conor’s situation?
Do you think this movie would help another child facing the same circumstance? Do you think they would relate to Conor’s feelings, or be frightened by them? Does it help you have sympathy for others who may be struggling with private worries?
A doctor friend of mine once blithely quipped, “No one gets out of life alive.” Even though everyone knows this is true, why is facing death so difficult? That same MD then offered this thought provoking advice: “To be at peace with death, we must find meaning in the journey of life.” What purpose does Conor’s mother’s life have? What things could her loved ones glean from her mortal journey? How might looking for legacies left behind help ease a sense of loss? What other things might you do to find peace in sorrow?