Friday, April 28, 2017

A Monster Calls




The story begins “with a boy too old to be a kid, too young to be a man, and a nightmare.”

When some movies had explosive first scenes, A Monster Calls had only that line. It was just a beautiful line that describes the story and gave an inkling of the emotional tone that is to come. Too old to be a kid, too young to be a man... Shit can happen anytime even to the innocent and all that can be done is to pull through.

Cool thing about the line is that many great stories are the same. Luke was an innocent farm boy who was forced to battle out the nightmare of the Empire. Frodo and Sam, innocent and defenseless hobbits ended up destroying the One Ring deep at the very heart of the nightmarish Mordor. The way A Monster Calls began makes regular life feel a little more epic. There just a boy that no one else would give a second look and he was about to lose his mother.

I didn’t realize then that the story would hit a raw nerve in me as thoroughly as it did. This is by far the hardest blog post that I had to write because in writing I need to be where the boy is but in doing so, I also keep hitting where I was. I was not watery eyed but actually crying. I was or maybe I still am where the boy is.

The boy is Conor O'Malley (Lewis MacDougall) and his mother Lizzie (Felicity Jones) has cancer (implied, the movie never said but that’s the only disease I know where treatment causes hair loss). 

When other boys of his age would still be asleep, he does his chores and prepares his own breakfast. At school he’s trapped in his own world almost not seeing nor hearing what’s said in class. The teacher backs off giving him space. Only the bully goes after him with regularity. Conor’s grandma wants to adopt him at once but the son of course does not want to be anywhere else.

One night a Monster (Liam Neeson) visits him. It’s neither hideous nor cute; it just looks like Baby Groot’s grandfather. The Monster promises three stories at which he will need of Conor the fourth and the truth. Ironically it is the Monster with stories who does the proverbial hand holding until the end.

Listening to the Monster’s stories I can only say that it is fortunate that he’s more than the size of a house and not Baby Groot size. Any smaller and Conor would have easily ignored him or chopped him for wood because he does not make sense, or, he does not make sense to a boy whose mother is dying.

The first story was clear cut a loved prince who kills. Good and bad is not so easily defined in life. The second is even a worse because its conclusion is even less obvious: the faithless desperate man. I understand the point of faith but it’s the way the Monster told it. The last, the invisible man, is clear enough. Conor is already there.  The stories are hard to understand. Life is complicated the Monster even concedes, lacking in definite answers. What the Monster spoke clearly from the get go was speak the Truth.

I don’t even get his stories at the first telling, and I’m supposed to be the calmer one. But playing around with the idea a little, Conor might have never listened to direct-to-the-point sermons, hurting as he was.  The stories would work so the Conor can grow into the idea. The Monster points out:

“Stories are wild creatures... When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?”

Lewis MacDougall was brilliant in his portrayal. The movies depiction of what a son, only child, who thinks the world is only defined by his mother is going through is very accurate.

I like how he’s afraid of just going through the door; the way he looks at his mother from that “safe” distance. Lewis held his own against Sigourney Weaver who was brilliant in her quiet dignity. The grandmother looked always on the verge but never actually breaking down. It think it's outstanding too that Lewis performed well against the Monster which is most likely a blue screen, maybe with some tennis balls for eyes, and Liam Neeson shouting his lines nearby.

Felicity Jones reminds me of Puss and Boots for some reason and yet when I watch her scenes over and over again, the eyes seem to be normal size to me. Maybe it just goes well with her buck tooth which is why she looks like a cartoon. 

Anyway, here her eyes are not for comic effect but has pulled me in for the perfect dramatic punch of the story. When Lizzie and Conor had the talk, the underlying emotions are accurately portrayed from the point of view of both mother and son.

“And if one day,' she said, really crying now, 'you look back and you feel bad for being so angry, if you feel bad for being so angry at me that you couldn't even speak to me, then you have to know, Conor, you have to that is was okay. It was okay. That I knew. I know, okay? I know everything you need to tell me without you having to say it out loud.”

Lizzie has that look.  She knows her son is scared but what is there to say? That everything is going to get better? She had to make up those stories just so she and her son make it through the days but it ran out.

Her saying its ok to be angry and break things is another way of saying she can no longer join him. She will no longer say what not to do only that her support is eternal. Conor is angry then that’s what he is. If he wants to break things then do so fully. Lizzie asks no sympathy or respect. She just knows she is bowing out too early and it’s not about her. Conor just has to go forward for the both of them from here on in. Too old to be a boy, too young to be a man.

My mother never asked anything for herself too. Our talk was never this eloquent - certainly had no theme music. I was angry, she said she loved me. I’m not sure I heard her then. Maybe I wish I heard her now as clearly as this movie. This talk, the hospital scene, is the climax and I watch it and cry every time but I needed to finish this blog.

After the hospital was the fourth story as Conor would have it and the Truth.  The Truth happens in real life too. After the Truth is the ending.

“Conor held tightly onto his mother. And by doing so, he could finally let her go.”

I never had my fourth story and its ending. Maybe that's why I am crying because I don't know if everything was okay. 

May we all find our monsters and learn how to hold on tight.