A Monster Calls is a dramatic stunner. It squirms your insides when you try to empathize with its protagonist, one hell of a child actor, Lewis MacDougall. Its evident story happens between its lines, as it takes refuge of a child’s fancy to expound some of life’s biggest lessons – expressing yourself as you are, accepting a pitfall and coming to terms with it.
Humans are complicated beasts. You believe comforting lies while knowing full well the painful truth that makes those lies necessary.
Cardinal Theme of A Monster Calls
There are two facades to the human brain. The one, that is the sane one, says things that you really mean. Then there is the other one, your daft side that keeps interposing and writing off decisions laid down by the first. It is a constant battle between them that affects your choices, that plays your mood to its tune. This might sound crazy to a grown-up who has the reins of his brains well sought and unknotted, who is often not vexed by his choices. (That’s too rare again!) But to a child whose thoughts run rampant, it is simply huge.
Life is always in the eyes. If you get that, you’ll be a proper artist.
The negative and the positive thoughts that keep curdling inside you wage wars trying to cloud what you really wanna do or say. And that’s where the movie’s true theme resides. In those hollows of vexation!
What you really mean, the purest form of it all comes when you are feeling a true uninfluenced feel. The movie tries to bring its protagonist to terms with his actual pious veracity, and it only concludes when its job gets done.
J. A. Bayona’s Engaging Direction
It’s official! There’s no director better than J. A. Bayona who could successfully unsheathe qualm and disquiet from a child and then present it in the most beautiful way possible. We saw that happen in the havocking nature pillage The Impossible in 2012 when he made us cry tears of rekindling joy, and of course in the stunning 2007 horror The Orphanage, which was Bayona’s debut film.
To bring out the natural flair of Lewis’ acting prowess Bayona brims up his life with ample loner shots before bringing the Monster in. His direction is so pleasantly lucid that you find yourself reading a child’s thoughts on the go. It has proper focus to dribble emotions right into your hearts.
A Monster Calls walks in with three, nay four, extraordinary stories with hidden meanings and messages. All of them are beautifully done with outstanding CGI. The Monster appears very real too.
Plot of A Monster Calls Movie (Spoilers Ahead)
To begin with the prologue we find Conor (Lewis) staring at a tree. He is constantly miffed by a nerve-racking dream. In it he finds his mother portrayed by Felicity Jones caving into an annihilating earthquake. It swallows her up, leaving him helpless and stranded in the process. We find him leaving for school, preparing his own breakfast, dressing himself up for school, in short, taking care of himself. His mother is sick, and it is up to him to look after himself. With that, you can almost see how Conor’s nightmare is perfectly poetic and in line with his biggest fears.
He summons up a monster voiced brilliantly by Liam Neeson who presses on telling him three stories for extricating Conor’s nightmare. All of these stories are strewn across the movie and in context with things happening with his life. The tree monster claims that since it was itself the common element in every tale, it knew very well what went on in those tales.
Stories are wild creatures, When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?
Three Stories of Tree Monster
The first story is about a kingdom that was miffed by vile creatures. A king loses all his sons except one to them, who grows up to become a warrior. Before he comes of age, however, the king marries a beautiful young woman. Soon the king dies and the world believes that it was her who had poisoned the king. To keep the reins of the kingdom in her hands, she plots to marry the prince. However, the prince runs away with a farm girl who he was supposedly in love with. They stop to rest under a tree (the monster).
On waking up, he finds the farm girl murdered. Declaring that it was the queen who had murdered her and convincing fellow farmers of it, he wages war against her along with them. The tree monster awakens and joins the attacking mob, however, the monster saves the queen in the process carrying her to a faraway land. The reason the tree monster saves the queen is that it saw the prince killing the farm girl to snatch the throne wrongfully.
There is not always a good guy, Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.
The above story reflects the life of Conor as well when we are introduced to his grandmother whom he abhors profusely.
Second Story of Apothecary and Parson
The second crucial story is the one that deals with an apothecary, a guy who is inclined to treat diseases and ailments using conventional methodologies. Fighting him off is a new world parson who discourages everybody from going to the apothecary for treatment. He stops the parson from cutting down a healing tree (the monster tree) that could have allowed him to cure any disease in the world.
However, one day Parson’s two daughters become really sick and all his attempts to cure them goes in vain. When nothing works he finally falls down to his knees seeking apothecary for his help. The apothecary refuses him when he finds out that the parson is ready to sell his faith and whatever he stood for, just for the sake of saving his own daughters.
The tree monster surprisingly awakens to decimate the parson’s house even though clearly apothecary seemed at fault for not helping the parson. The monster believed that if the parson hadn’t been so selfish in the first place, he would have been able to save both his daughters by allowing the apothecary to cut him down. He wasn’t staying true to himself by deteriorating from his path, and so he needed to be punished for it.
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you’?
In the real world, Conor destroys Grandma’s house believing it to be Parson’s. When his grandma finds it, she doesn’t punish him for it, since she considers it a mere ripple against what’s imminent.
Grandma: Worse things happen at sea.
Conor: Aren’t you going to punish me?
Grandma: What could possibly be the point in that?
The Third Story of Invisibility
The third story was supposed to be about a boy being invisible.
There was once an invisible man, who had grown tired of being unseen. It was not that he was actually invisible. It was just that people had become used to not seeing him.
It actually happens when Conor is tired of being invisible. When everyone (including his mother) keeps treating him as if there was nothing wrong with his mother as if he did not deserve to know what was befalling her. The fact that he already knew that his mother had cancer made it even sadder. On being bullied once again, he breaks all hell loose on his predator, by calling up the monster and beating the hell out of him.
As an aftermath, he finds the whole world looking at him, of him becoming visible, of everybody knowing about him, of the principal acknowledging his presence.
Dad: Love isn’t enough. It doesn’t carry you through.
Conor: So, you didn’t get happily ever after.
Dad: No, but that’s life, you know? Most of us just get messily ever after.
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As mentioned before there were actually four stories, the fourth one being Conor’s acknowledgment of his biggest nightmares. It is summoned by the monster actually that recreates the exact setup Conor used to imagine, and re-imagine as his nightmare.
You waste the precious time that is given to you.
His biggest nightmare, however, wasn’t letting his mum fall into the maws of an abyss but was that he wished it all to get over. Like an innocent brain wishing a thing and phase to pass, he had secretly wished for his mother to die. It killed him, wondering if he had unknowingly brought that fate upon her.
I can’t stand knowing that she’ll go. I want it to be finished. I let her fall. I let her die. I deserve punishment. I deserve the worst. I’ve known forever that she wasn’t going to make it. She’d keep telling me she was getting better all the time because that’s what I wanted to hear. And I believed her. Except I didn’t. And I started to think how much I wanted it to be over.
The second sane sacred brain of his that hadn’t had the chance to accept the unacceptable finally gets a shot at understanding the impending disaster when he is pushed on by the monster to actually feel the pain. The unstoppable cancer then does its job.
Belief is half of all healing. Belief in the cure, belief in the future that awaits. Your belief is valuable, so you must be careful where you put it, and in whom.
You see in all the above stories, the common element was always the tree monster. Even though Conor accepted its existence as a mere fancy, he used it to justify all of his acts. In the end, we get to know through the artistic portrayals of his mother’s drawings that the monster and all the characters of his story were actually figments of his mother’s imagination, that she had once used to narrate him stories of.
I wish I had a hundred years. A hundred years I could give to you.
One of the best lines from the movie is when Conor’s mum understands. She says that she knows and fathoms everything that went inside the head of Conor. In one of the frames, she is shown actually nodding to the monster who by the way doesn’t exist. But is in a way suggestive of how mum comprehended everything that the little lad went through.
One day, if you look back and you feel bad for being so angry you couldn’t even speak to me, you have to know that that was okay, that I knew. Because I know everything you need to tell me without you having to say it out loud.
It is hard not to marvel at the magnificent watercolor paintings in the movie. The fact its paintings were created as a result of blowing water paint on the paper made it appear even more gorgeous. The CGI is absolutely ravishing too. Stories are brilliantly played out giving the story its innate perspective.
The most destructive scenes from A Monster Calls is, I believe, is when Conor tries to reason with her mother why the tree monster couldn’t save her when it was supposed to? It’s hard to stop your tears from breaking the dam of emotions. Also, when he runs wild on finding out that her death was inexorable.
Conor: I let her go. I could have held on for longer, but I always let her go. Now she’s going to die and it’s my fault.
Monster: You were merely wishing for an end of pain. Your own pain. It is the most human wish there is.
The Final Verdict
A Monster Calls is an absolute wonder. It is a movie that fits the shoes of the actual book just fine. To help it achieve that is, of course, Lewis MacDougall’s brilliant acting, and Liam Neeson’s grave voice, and also the movie’s exceptional CGI. Transitions that go on inside the frames of all the stories are simply awe-inspiring as well.
The drama of the movie is simply top-notch. I would recommend this movie to everyone. I have placed this in my avant-garde collection since it banked on an unusual bold story-line to bring an imaginary beast from a child’s head out in the open.
It ends with the boy holding on tight to his mother. And by doing so, he can finally let her go.
You can check out the trailer of A Monster Calls Movie here: