TV / Films

Thoughts on 'A Monster Calls'

I watched this film last weekend and it made me cry more than I have at any film ever — for the last forty-five minutes tears were continuously running down my face, and at the end I had to sit quietly and sob for a while before I could get up and leave.

I know how to spend a Saturday night. *sunglasses emoji*

This is a film about mental health, love, family, the loss of childhood innocence, and whether any of us really have that ‘innocence’ to begin with. And it’s about stories and their power and their weakness. I wanted to write about what I thought about the film, because some of the things it covers are really important.


That it’s okay to break things. When really, really bad things are happening and your mind is a maelstrom of awfulness — when it feels like everything important to you is being destroyed and ruined — sometimes the only way to express that is to reify that destruction. To pull it out of your head and put it in the world, so that you can see it. It’s okay to do that to objects in the world. Because it’s better than doing it to yourself.

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That children can think deeply and complexly and maturely and selflessly about big, difficult things — and that to presume that they don’t is to patronise them. Everyone remembers being forgotten about or disregarded as a child because it’s assumed you don’t understand. Everyone remembers feeling too small, or too stupid, or too unimportant to be trusted with the truth, even though you’re desperate to know the real story — to understand what’s actually going on rather than hearing a sanitised version.

It’s like in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The Man says “I’m the one always worrying about where we’re going to sleep, eat, go next; I can’t waste time looking after you when you’re acting up.” The Boy replies, “That’s not true! I’m the one! I’m the one who always worries.”

A Monster Calls is similar to the heart-wrenching novella Grief is a Thing with Feathers: it acknowledges that when there’s a tragedy kids feel more than sad, just like adults, and that grief is non-linear and incredibly messy.

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That the Monster in A Monster Calls is grief, and depression, and loneliness, and isolation, and that so many people in the world don’t have a Monster as good as this one. Through telling Conor stories, the Monster opens his mind and in doing so, helps Conor’s own beliefs and sense of self develop. And the Monster is there at the climax and helps Conor accept what’s going to happen to his mother and understand that he’ll get through it. As above, this is like the role of Crow in Grief is a Thing with Feathers.

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That stories are vital in teaching you how to understand the world and other people, but they’re not enough. People love to talk about the importance and power of stories — and I say it a lot myself — but I always feel a bit po-faced when I do, like I’m insisting that the world is so simple that it fits within the covers of the book, honest.

A Monster Calls admits that the very story it’s telling is not enoughThe real crux of it is that people, and life, is more complicated than any story. And that’s a tremendously powerful thing to understand.

Stories at their core show you the world from other perspectives and angles, and in doing so allow you to see the world more clearly. To me, at least, that’s the whole point of a story. But often stories are more entertaining if they filter the view: create goodies and baddies, for example, so that it feels better to have the story end as it does. We like neatness and we like justice. This is certainly the case with children’s stories. But real life is never going to end as neatly as that. And in acknowledging that, A Monster Calls shows that life is better if you have stories to help you, but you need to live as well; they’re not sufficient.


I recommend you go see this film / read this book, but my goodness: bring tissues. And let me know if you agree with what I say.

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on 'A Monster Calls'

  1. Your first paragraph is exactly what I went through. The thing I found hardest was knowing that this was a kids film, thinking that meant I could get lost in the fantasy of the monster, but a small part of me knew that he wasn’t real and that this would not end well. And yet I allowed myself to believe that he could save his mum, exactly like Connor did. Couldn’t agree more that kids experience emotions to a similar complexity that adults do, but I saw it from the other perspective: that no matter how old you get, you are always vulnerable to the propensity to lose your reason in the face of impending tragedy. I knew this was a fantasy film but I still opened myself to it because I wanted everything ‘to be ok’ in the end. I don’t think I could watch this again. P.S. i thought the casting in this was brilliant.

    1. I watched it the day it came out and my stance going into the film might have had something to do with the fact that I was expecting young adult fantasy. Still a small part of me knew it was coming. Hell of a way to spend New Year’s Day

    2. I agree with everything you say — I thought there was going to be a happy ending, because that would make it neater, but that’s not real life, and I guess the ultimate message of the film, like I say, is that it would make narrative sense for that to happen, but it’s not real life and that’s just how it goes. You make a good point about losing your reason, too. Nothing’s more human than to long for a happy ending. I can’t imagine being ten years old and watching this!

      1. i wasn’t even hungover and emotional! I was looking for an interesting film. then i turned up and there were kids there, i thought ‘yeah, as expected’ then it started. they kept it together better than i did (not saying much) but they were clearly disturbed and in slightly different places to the adults. The bits where Connor seemed to be in existential danger were more scary for them – which makes sense. But i guess that’s also how Connor felt – his life was literally collapsing around him. I could talk about this film most of the evening. liked your rundown

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