(Warning: The following contains some moderate near-SPOILERS for A Monster Calls, largely straight from the mouth of the man who wrote it, Patrick Ness. Proceed with whatever level of caution the tree-monster living out back of your house suggests to you is wise...)
Now, there are a whole lot of perfectly legitimate reasons to cry in public, ranging from sudden testicular impact and tragic personal loss all the way through to just feeling like it, but one of the more unusual is surely the muffled sobbing that takes place in movie theaters the world over. A trip to the movies is, as it turns out, one of the most popular occasions for us to collectively let out any emotions that we may have been keeping bottled up throughout the day.
During a recent screening of the (genuinely lovely) A Monster Calls at the Toronto International Film Festival, however, that emotional release managed to catch an entire audience of distinctly jaded film critics, as a room of industry professionals sat and silently bawled their eyes out to a movie that is, to put it mildly, emotionally charged. As such, when Movie Pilot recently sat down with Patrick Ness, the film's screenwriter (and author of the novel it's based on), we had to ask him about the film's ability to make cynical professional journalists well up.
Before we get started, though, here's the film's official synopsis for a little context:
A visually spectacular drama from acclaimed director Juan Antonio Bayona (“The Impossible”), based on the award-winning children’s fantasy novel. 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) attempts to deal with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness and the bullying of his classmates by escaping into a fantastical world of monsters and fairy tales that explore courage, loss, and faith.
With that in mind, then, onward to the interview!
Movie Pilot: So congratulations. You made an entire audience of critics cry yesterday. That was impressive.
Patrick Ness: "[adopting a joking tone] Crying is healing, so you’re welcome."
MP: You’ve now generated a lot of raw emotion in two different mediums: Obviously the novel, and also the movie. Do you feel that there’s a particular power that movies have to make us cry, to feel that emotion? To feel something that we’re so often unable or unwilling to express in public?
PN: "Movies are a funny experience I think, because they are public in a way, but it’s a darkened room and you’re all facing the same direction, so it’s kind of quasi-public. In the odd obverse, social media is quasi-private – it’s not really, but everyone treats it as such. ‘No-one can see this thing that I’m sharing with the entire world’. Movies are the opposite of that I think. I think that good visuals can go right into the middle of your cerebral cortex, it’s gonna hit ya. I think they’re different approaches. A book’s back door approach is to make you think, to make you identify, to stir you up from behind."
PN (Cont.)"A film is more direct, which is why I think you have to be more honest with it. That was one of the big rules with both the book and the movie, and why I held onto the rights for a long time, and wrote it by myself, and waited until I found the right filmmaker, because one of my real concerns was not to fake it. You can cheapen it, and it was always about the truth of what’s happening to Conor, and you can so easily ‘goose’ the music, and ‘goose’ everything round it, and I kept saying it has to be true, it has to be true. That’s always the part about a movie – it’s so easy to manipulate, and I don’t like it that way, being pushed around by a movie, so it has to be true, all the time."
MP: Do you remember the first movie that made you cry?
PN: "Oh my god, yes I do. Have you heard of Where The Red Fern Grows? [A 1974 adaptation of Wilson Rawls' novel] I live in Europe, and hardly anyone there has heard of it. But yeah, Where The Red Fern Grows is, for an eight-year-old, utterly devastating. The two dogs, and one of them dies protecting the boy, and the other one dies of heartbreak. The end. It’s just… absolutely, it was Where The Red Fern Grows. It is completely devastating. It is the apocalypse for an eight-year-old. Good god. What were they thinking?"
MP: Do you think that the way movies approach emotion has changed over the years? You look back at older films, they’re often: There’s this movie, and then in the last five minutes they go ‘OK now grief’.
PN: "Movies are really expensive, and there are a lot of people to worry about how much money they’re going to make - and so it’s so hard to get something really good made. And so I can sympathize some with that feeling of ‘we’ve got to do that, we’ve got to do this’ – it’s a lot of money. Fortunately, movies are both more expensive and much cheaper now, so you can have your big, big, big, big films, and you can have lots and lots of smaller films that take risks. And this is – we got a fairly decent budget – it’s $43 million I think – but it was made in Spain. It’s still an independent feel – and that’s I think where you get some interesting stuff. You can get interesting really big movies, but… I don’t know if there’s been a big change, there’s just been more points of view being able to do it, and more people – different voices – being able to explore. Which I think is, god that’s healthy, and interesting, and not just the same crap.
On the subject of things not being "just the same old crap", it's worth noting that A Monster Calls fully deserves all the praise that's sure to come its way. Beautifully crafted, genre-defying and heartbreaking in just the right way, it's a subtle, emotionally complex tale, featuring more striking visuals than you can shake a (Liam Neeson-voiced) stick at. Don't be too surprised to see it receive some love come Oscars time - especially for director J.A. Bayona, supporting actress Felicity Jones and Ness himself with the adaptation of his own novel. And, of course, for a whole lot of audience members to leave a whole lot of movie theaters with their eyes a red, and their make up completely smudged.
Want to read the full interview with Ness, or more on this year's TIFF? Check out:
- 'A Monster Calls' Writer Patrick Ness Talks Tears, Truth And Respecting Young Readers
- What TIFF 2016's Opening Weekend Means For the 2017 Oscars Race
- 'Arrival' Is A Very Different Sci-Fi Movie To What You're Expecting
What do you reckon, though? Are you excited to bawl your eyes out watching A Monster Calls? Let us know below!