Holding fast to truth
A Monster Calls
DISTRIBUTOR: Entertainment One
RELEASE DATE: 27 July 2017
A Monster Calls is one of those stories (book or film) that deserves a place on the shelf in every family concerned with teaching children the importance of truth and belief.
Lewis MacDougall stars as Conor, a 13-year-old English boy struggling to care for his dying mother. Conor’s life is a battle to assert normality in a situation no child should be asked to bear alone. He receives occasional assistance from his icy grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) but the unwanted attention of bullies brings him to breaking point. One night, at 12.07am, Conor hears a disturbing ruckus from the graveyard near his home. In a moment, a terrifying tree-like monster is at his window. The creature tells Conor the boy has summoned it. The monster will tell him three true stories and, when it is done, Conor must deliver a true story of his own.
The book A Monster Calls won both the Carnegie and Greenaway medals for its evocative illustrations, and those thrilling images have found their full realisation in the film. The monster has all the characteristics of a child’s nightmare and is well matched with the threatening tones of Liam Neeson. This might leave you wondering how suitable this film is for its high-school market. Yet what Conor learns is that the scariest thing a boy will ever have to confront is the darkness in his own heart.
At precisely 12.07 in the morning and the afternoon, the monster returns to confront Conor with his stories. During one, the monster teaches Conor about the weakness of lightly held beliefs. There was a parson who preached vehemently against a healer whose character displeased him – until the priest’s own daughters fell desperately ill. Then the parson told the apothecary he would preach sermons in his favour, if only he would save his children:
Apothecary: You would give up everything you believed in?
Parson: If it would save them, I would give up everything.
Apothecary: Then there is nothing I can do to help you.
There can be no real healing so long as we insist on feeding ourselves lies.
The monster tells Conor the parson proved to be a man of faith without faith. His belief was so weak, it could never save him or his family. It’s a lesson that should remind the viewer that God won’t be mocked by insincere professions.
However, the most powerful lesson comes towards the end of the film, when the monster finally demands payment, drawing from Conor his own story. It turns out to be a confession of how angry and helpless the boy feels in the face of his mother’s illness. The monster drags the admission from Conor in a way that seems cruel, but is actually the necessary lancing of a boil on the boy’s soul. There can be no real healing so long as we insist on feeding ourselves lies.
A Monster Calls is a sad but beautifully crafted tale that arrives at a satisfying conclusion. It reminds us of the harm we do ourselves when we fail to hold onto the truth, and the healing that comes from being honest with others and, most of all, ourselves. It will remind its audience of the importance of truth, and help pave the way in a child’s heart for accepting and holding fast to the greatest truths of all – those that speak of their place in God’s creation. And, borrowing the words of Jesus, then they will know the truth, and the truth will set them free.
This review comes from The Lutheran July 2017. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.