It has been quite some time since I saw J. A. Bayona’s masterful film ‘A Monster Calls’, but when I think about it for a few minutes the emotions come back. This is because the experience of watching this film was more than just an entertaining one for me. It was catharsis. A truly life altering trip to the movie house and a necessary truth that helped me deal with my own.
As many of you who read my writing know, my father passed away last year. An event that has come to define me in ways that I could never have expected. And also an event that helped me recognize truths about myself that I never knew before. Things that made me feel guilty and lost. Then I saw this film and it helped me realize that I was not alone. There was nothing wrong with me. I am only human and these human faults are not faults at all, but the definition of our humanity while coping with the unimaginable.
I’m not going to tell you what these truths are, but I will set you up for what great truth broke me to pieces and caused this films protagonist to summon a monster in the first place. Sadly, this truth is something that Conor (Lewis MacDougall) must come to grips with at an unfairly young age. A thing I know was unbearable at 33 must be incomprehensible at 13. The first truth he must accept is a clear one from the outset. His mother is dying.
Conor’s mom is played by the unwavering talent that is Felecity Jones. And she conveys the mothers love with grace and despair. She knows that she’s likely going to lose her battle, but she tries to remain strong for her son. Conor also tries to remain strong for her. He is dealing with bullying in school and the horrors of taking care of a sick mother. Yet, he must also try to remain strong and keep the hope that his mother will pull through. A hope that eventually becomes unbearable.
This is what leads to the summoning of a gloriously rendered monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) who comes to tell him three stories. He says that the fourth story will be Conor’s truth. Each story is rendered in a unique way by the filmmakers. The first being the one I remember the most clearly because the animation was so luscious and it reminded me of that great tale about the three brothers in ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1’. However, it’s not the stories that are so important on their own. It’s the way the stories prepare him for his own personal truth.
This is profoundly deep stuff, and it all leads to a finale that will tear your heart out in the most beautifully manipulative way. Bayona borrows some tone and style to deliver maximum emotional impact. It’s powerful stuff by any standards, but if you have lost a loved one than it might feel unbearable to you. You may wish for your own loved one back and place yourself in Conor’s shoes. Yet, there was a catharsis in it for. I felt like something I had been holding back was released. A numbness I had built was allow to open up.
‘A Monster Calls’ is a masterful piece of work and easily one of the best movies of 2016 that is finally coming this first weekend of 2017. Don’t miss it and bring a whole box of tissues.