I highly recommend watching or reading A Monster Calls before reading this review.
“Pain Demands to be Felt”
This story, is not a cancer story. It doesn’t chronical the beautiful and tragic last days of a cancer patient who loves her family, wants the best for her son, and is trying to bury the past to live her last days to the fullest. This story isn’t about her, it isn’t about a monster either. It’s about the Truth. It’s about the deepest most despicable parts of our hearts, that sometimes reveal to us our true desires, no matter how ugly they can be.
In the words of John Green’s beautiful little cancer novel, The Fault in Our Stars, Green narrates the short and tragic life of Hazel Grace in the way most cancer movies play out. They’re colorful, sad, and end tragically with some little life tale that says “their life meant something.” We love cancer flicks for a good cry, to empathize with our loved ones or friends, or even to cope with our own situations. My Sister’s Keeper is another cancer movie I love because cute little Abigail Breslin sues her family for the rights to her own body, it’s hilariously morbid and always got me crying, but it had basically the same plot as the Fault in Our Stars. I love both movies, but there’s something eerily human, and quite revealing about the little known movie from December 2016, A Monster Calls.
I stumbled across the trailer for a monster calls and I was fascinated by the three story tall Groot played by Liam Neeson, I was fascinated by the color in the art, and the emotion in the young newcomer who plays Connor O’mally. I couldn’t wait for the movie to come out so I bought the book. I don’t read much, but I’m trying to pick up more books, and somehow, this book sucked me in! I finished it in three days and was crying all the way through! One thing that was mind-numbingly frustrating through the whole book was the fact that every single character Connor speaks to, his grandmother, his dad, his teachers, even the Monster, refuse to say the word “Cancer”. You know that’s what she has! Just say it! You feel the boy’s frustration at being treated like a child who just doesn’t understand what his mother is going through.
The trailer had a poignant line which helpfully sums up Connor’s predicament. “A boy too old to be a kid. Too young to be a man.” This boy has been saddled with all the chores of the house and feel obligated to take care of his mother even though it isn’t his responsibility. When faced with the monster, he immediately drowns his fear in protectiveness the moment his mother is threatened. He’d throw down his life for her, even though his mother is dying. With no opportunity left in him to be a child, he starts acting out. Not in a way that makes him seem like a bratty kid, but recognizably relatable.
Take a deep breath, and let this pain be felt.
Connor is dying to be punished. He begs for it in school. His teacher walks by him when he is wearing headphones during a test. Rather than setting him straight, the teacher asks how he’s doing. And no one ever tells Connor outright, they just treat him different, like he’s special. He’s bullied for it. And while the childish part of him doesn’t understand why everyone feels the need to ask him if he’s okay, the adult side whispers to him when he tries to sleep, firing up his protective nature. He hides that adult understanding in destructiveness. Batting down trashcans, throwing about his things, until finally, everything spirals out of control.
I’ve read many interviews with the writer of A Monster Calls, and he says that the entire story was written around one point. A boy, coming out of a trance in which he had been protecting his mother, to find he has destroyed his grandmother’s sitting room. That idea was so powerful, and the scene in both the book and the movie puts me in shock! It is powerful! And somehow, this movie was overlooked, and overshadowed by another movie from December 2016, Rogue One. Felicity Jones’ performance in A Monster Calls was gentle, realistic, and kind. She lied to her boy to make him more comfortable, letting him believe she was going to survive when the audience clearly knows she isn’t. Whereas, Jones’ performance in Rogue One was bland, pointless, and destructive to the Star Wars saga as a whole. She’s a perfectly good actress, but I have a lot of anger that she was not recognized for the power of her role in A Monster Calls.
“Speak the Truth”
The Monster’s role in the book and the movie is a sort of imaginary friend that Connor immediately believes is there to help his mother fight cancer, when he doesn’t realize that the Monster is there to save him. Connor is baffled that he would ever need saving, and this finally delves into a dark, very powerful theme in the book, a lesson everyone should learn. This movie is a solid PG-13. Not the lewd, sneaky curse words, with a little violence scattered in, this movie is the PG-13 movie you need to show your 13 year old. It teaches an incredibly mature lesson that only someone in that age rage could fully stomach. It whispers the words of John Green that “Pain demands to be felt”. Pain is not a beautiful thing, it’s quite ugly. Pain is rarely physical, pain is felt especially powerfully by 13 year olds who are growing too fast to know what to do, and they easily break or are confounded when troubles come.
Connor is forced by the Monster to “speak the truth”, to tell the truth about how he’s feeling and Connor firmly believes his truth, will kill him. Before it comes out, the audience is left in awe of this child’s performance, screaming and crying because he can’t bear to speak the simple words: “I want it to be over” in his heart, even though he knows it’s wrong, and it feels awful to even think, the darkest part of his heart tells him everything will be easier once she’s gone, so he wishes it would end sooner. Connor blames himself for wishing death on his mother, believing that it why she’s dying. This powerful game of self-manipulation in the mindset of this 13-year-old breeds a lie that the Monster has come to save him from.
“It doesn’t matter what you think, only what you do”
The lesson of this movie that I want to share with everyone I can is an incredibly Biblical message. In the Gospel, Jesus says that even if you hate your brother it would be like you have murdered him, warning us of just how high our Lord’s standards are. But there is a wonderful promise. The seven deadly sins like hatred, lust, and greed are not sins by themselves, but they breed sin. So if you let yourself feel hatred, it may lead you to harm someone. But here’s the promise, the feeling itself is not a sin!
“Pain demands to be felt”
- Do not be afraid to let those horrible emotions quell inside you! Let yourself feel any hate, loss, rejection, disappointment, anger, greed! Let out those emotions, they won’t do you any good all bundled up inside!
“Speak the truth”
- Let someone know how you feel. Someone you trust, who loves you and will accept you no matter what you have to say. As a Christian, go to Jesus in prayer, speak to him openly and give those feelings up to God because he can handle him. Go to a parent, a close friend, or a mentor, but know that God is always there to listen and will always love you. This is always the hardest step, but it’s very necessary.
“It doesn’t matter what you think, only what you do”
- After much prayer and consideration, you must decide what to do. Decide if you must act, or if you should let things take their course. Decide to forgive and let go, or if you must confront. It’s alright to have negative emotions, it’s alright to hate something, or be angry, but what you do about those feelings is the most important thing to take from A Monster Calls.
Final thoughts and updates
Thank for joining my this Thursday, I’m still trying to keep posts regular, and let me know what you think I should do next. I’ve hit a little delay in the editing process of FH, but it has caused me to pick up speed in writing DoS, since last Thursday I have written out three whole chapters, and gotten to major arcs in the story, with a little humor here in there.
I’m thinking about recruiting a couple beta readers for FH, it would require comprehensive reading, filling out a questionnaire for each segment, and some editing skills to catch minor mistakes. I’m looking for about 6, so email me if you’re interested. My email can be found on my “about” page or on my Instagram.
My goals for this next week are pretty intense. I want to slow my pace on writing DoS to do some much needed illustrations. I started the cover for TS:Restoration and I have a pretty solid concept that I just need to get out, and I also have a couple character studies planned for the main characters of the first few Shadows books. I’ll start with Mark, but I want to do Ocie, Sil, Emilie, and Irwin, with sketches, character bios, and random facts.
Stay tuned, I’ve got a lot more stuff coming!