Spoiler Warning: If you haven't read or seen A Monster Calls yet, proceed at your own risk, as there are plenty of spoilers in this article. You have been warned.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness has recently been adapted to film by Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage; The Impossible). With Ness also serving as screenwriter, we don't have to worry about getting an unfaithful book-to-film adaptation. The film stars Academy Award Winner Sigourney Weaver as Grandma, Academy Award nominee Felicity Jones as Mum, and Lewis MacDougall as Conor. The Monster is also voiced by none other than Liam Neeson. Critics have praised the stellar performances across the board; this is nothing short of the perfect cast ensemble for such a well-loved, thought-provoking and emotional book.
The plot goes a little something like this: at exactly seven minutes after midnight, a yew tree came walking to Conor O'Malley's window. Conor wasn't in the least impressed, because the monster from his recent nightmares was far more scary. This monster told Conor three stories on separate nights, and afterwards, Conor had to tell the monster the truth about his nightmare, otherwise he'd eat Conor alive.
Now, whether the monster is real or just a manifestation of Conor's own turbulent emotions is left open to interpretation. Even if Conor hadn't realized it at first, the Monster's stories helped Conor cope with his real-life struggles; chiefly, his Mum's terminal cancer. The tales were the backbone of the book, and if there's one thing that'll be key to the success of the movie, it's doing these three tales justice. What were the tales that helped Conor overcome his own fear of his truth? Read on.
The First Tale
The Monster's first tale was about a kingdom that used to stand in the place where Conor's house is now located. There was a king who had four sons, all of whom died protecting the kingdom, and only one of his sons bore a child. The well-loved king decided to re-marry a beautiful princess to rule by his side, even if she was rumored to be a witch. Two years before the king's grandson's ascension to the throne, the king fell ill and died. Now, the young prince had fallen in love with a farmer's daughter and intended to marry her. His step-grandmother however, wanted him to marry her instead.
Long story short, when the prince and the farm girl decided to flee and marry in another kingdom, their passions got ahead of them — and when the prince woke up, he found the girl dead. He deduced that it was the queen who had the girl killed and asked the monster's help to overthrow her.
The Complexity of Human Beings
Now, Conor wanted the same to be done with to his grandmother (who he thought was trying to take his mother's place); but when it was revealed that the queen wasn't a murderer, and the Monster in fact saved her from being burnt at the stake, Conor thought that the Monster's fairytale was a 'lesson in niceness'. This made the monster laugh out loud, for he didn't go walking just to tell Conor a lesson about niceness. His stories were of real people and real lives — and the first tale only imparted that we all make sacrifices; even if those kinds of sacrifices defy our moral compass. We make choices that may tear us apart inside, but may also benefit an entire kingdom. Even though the prince loved the farm girl, he killed her to cause enough uproar from the kingdom to overthrow the queen. After all, we're human beings and we're capable of both good and evil.
The Second Tale
What would grandma's reaction be should she find her living room completely and utterly destroyed? That's exactly what happened after the second story.
The second story was set during the time of the industrial revolution, and there wasn't much greenery left, but you could find it if you knew where to look. The prominent characters in this story were an apothecary and a parson. This apothecary was greedy, but he knew his job and he really wanted the yew tree's bark to use it for medicine. The parson didn't like the apothecary and was against him chopping down the tree, especially since this time was also the dawn of modern medicine, thus there was no need for bogus healers, in his opinion. This changed when one of his daughters fell ill and none of the modern doctors could help her. The parson begged help from the apothecary and was willing to throw away even his beliefs if that means that the apothecary would help him. The apothecary didn't. At this, the monster came walking but not to punish the apothecary, but the parson.
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Life is Worth More Than A Million Things
But why would the monster do that? Y'see, what angered the monster wasn't the fact that the apothecary was greedy; he was going to discover a breakthrough in healing by utilizing the yew. But the parson, being ill-informed and arrogant in his own way, got in the way of the apothecary, even encouraging his parishioners to go against him. That is, until one of his daughters fell ill. The monster was mad at the parson because he, too, was selfish. If he had allowed the apothecary to chop the yew, countless other deaths could have been prevented. Therefore, he not only unwittingly caused the death of his own child, but also other people — all because of his ignorance.
The destruction of the parson's house was a wake-up call for him to stop living inside his bubble. It was almost the same thing with the destruction of Conor's grandma's precious living room — but not quite. She was shocked about the destruction of the living room, but saved her tears for Conor's Mum. Instead of getting better from new treatment, Conor's Mum still remained critically ill, and this was what provoked such a strong reaction from Grandma.
This was a poignant scene because it reminded us that people are more important than material things; we can always have nice and expensive things; a yew tree can always be planted again; but a person is irreplaceable.
The Third Tale
In the monster's third story, he told Conor about 'The Invisible Man'. It is the story that resonates with Conor the most. Since his mother has been diagnosed with cancer and grew weaker and weaker, the pitying stares he received from his friends and other people also heightened. He wasn't regarded as an individual — he was seen as this kid who has a sick mother that will never get better. Conor didn't treat anyone differently; everyone treated Conor differently. Because of this, he distanced himself from them. Conor didn't want to be treated with pitying stares, he just wanted for things to be the way they used to be. Such was not the case, however. Hence, he felt just like the invisible man who needed to draw so much attention to himself so that others would see him and not be figuratively invisible in their eyes, just because of an occurrence he had no control of.
Pretense Never Results In Anything Good
The lesson we learn from the invisible man and the the hazards that come with pretending? It never results in anything good. Conor's grandma got mad at both of Conor's parents because they haven't been honest with their son about the reality of the situation; that Mum is going to die soon, almost undoubtedly. Not even the last-ditch effort made out of yew trees helped her.
The one thing that the movie cannot change or even shorten from the book is the Monster's stories. They are integral part of the book and a part of Siobhan Dowd's original idea. These stories helped Conor gradually unravel the truth from his own bubble of defense. He could not have continued letting himself believe that his mother would get better, despite both his parents keeping up and encouraging the pretense to spare Conor's feelings.
Conor didn't want his mother to die, but at the same time, he wanted all the pain to stop. In his nightmares, he didn't want to let her go to her death, but the pain was too much — for both of them. In real life, he is faced with the reality that his mother isn't going to get better and it's impossible to prolong her life. Through reading the book, we didn't just discover the heartbreaking extent of Conor's truth, but we discover something about ourselves as well; that it's okay to be in the middle ground, and it doesn't matter what we think, it's what we do. Conor's admission of the truth set him free; it made him let go of all of that pent up anger in his heart.
A Monster Calls was beautiful; from the trailers, we see that the film will explore the extent of Conor's relationships with his mother and grandmother. It would be quite a rare experience to still get emotional while watching a film knowing the story all along — but if the movie nails these three stories, we may be left without a dry eye in the house. Seeing this heartwrenching stories come to life would be a breathtaking experience— even if we are left with puffy eyes for days.
Bring your tissues. 'A Monster Calls' will come walking to theaters everywhere on December 23, 2016.