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The Fantastical Catharsis Of ‘A Monster Calls’



‘Belief is half of all healing. Belief in the cure. Belief in the future that awaits.’

The power of cinema. Donnie Darko for its dazzling deconstruction and fusing of genres, possesses a narrative engulfed in loneliness and isolation. Through Logan Lerman’s Charlie, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is riddled with the anxieties and insecurities that plague many a fragile heart and mind. Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, where the immediacy and intimacy of its few days emboldened someone to lead the authentic lifestyle he so craved.

These are the works that have moulded me, establishing a love affair with an art form that i will never stop having sheer adoration for, enriching my life in ways i could only dream of as a teenager. As much as she complimented my obsession with film with our regular midweek trips to our local multiplexes, so often pleading with me to see every horror offering going, one person eclipsed in their remarkable influence. My mom Jane.

Funny. Fierce. Formidable. Consistently feeling quite low and insecure about how to apply myself socially and academically, she was always my tower of strength whilst being the solid foundation to gradually build me up to anything remotely worthwhile. Where many mocked the career path i chose and my introverted nature. Whilst she battled severe bouts of depression and anxiety of her own. We both found solace in cinema as well as each other, perhaps allowing the craftsmanship of those on-screen to truly articulate how we felt, without either of us wallowing in despair. But we were together. Unified in whatever obstacle either of us were facing.

Rewind to December 2016. A bitterly cold Monday evening. ODEON Screen Unseen. The overwhelming effect this particular film’s poignant trailer initially had with M83’s exquisite track ‘Lower Your Eyelids To Die With The Sun’ anchoring proceedings, only to later discover Keane were to provide the soundtrack ‘Tear Up This Town’, a band myself and my Mom bonded over in my formative years. I distinctly remember showing her the music video on my phone weeks before, truly delighted at Tom Chaplin’s voice filling her ears once more, along with being spellbound by the affection that filled every frame.

Here i experienced Juan Antonio Bayona’s adaptation of Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls for the first time. Never could i have envisaged its themes cutting so deeply months before. Nothing could have prepared me for how broken i felt throughout that screening, in the wake of being told the devastating news my mom was suffering with cervical cancer mere days before.

The love between this doting mother in Felicity Jones and young son in Lewis MacDougall is palpable. Yet it’s the potent parallel of them revelling in the fantastical as a form of catharsis in a desperate time, that spoke to me with such clarity.

The broad strokes of a pencil as MacDougall’s Conor is able to translate the horror and wonder of his dreams to the canvas, as the soothing sounds through his headphones help him navigate the darker recesses of his imagination. Transfixed by a classic monster movie in King Kong thanks to an old film projector, as Conor berates those attacking the beast on top of the Empire State Building. Only for Jones’ Lizzie to state ‘people don’t like what they don’t understand’, foreshadowing the difficulties faced in telling her son about her treatment, desperately trying to retain control of every decision to be made.

Sparing and protecting family of many dreaded details was something my mom did incredibly well. When she was slowly losing her hair. She implied that she always wanted her hair short anyway like P!nk, somewhat mirrored by Jones’ Tina Turner remark as she is greeted with wigs, brought by Sigourney Weaver’s grandmother in the film. Her ability to brighten a cloudy outlook and maintain a sense of normality in the midst of such growing uncertainty, filled me with immense pride.

In a desperate situation, you cling to every small positive you can. Any glimmer of hope you are given. To block out the alternative. For Conor, he invests in the mythical stories told by the imposing Monster voiced by Liam Neeson. Parsons and apothecaries. Kings and queens. All wrestling with their own morality, as they’re faced with tricky dilemmas.

Where Conor is fixated on the idea of this yew tree figure curing his ailing mom, the Monster is all too aware of why he has been summoned. To be a fantastical influence on Conor and aid him through this tough passage of his life, confronting this nightmare head on. In my own head space and in such circumstance, i didn’t want to be brave either. I almost wanted to create a distance away from those around me. I almost felt devoid of rationality in my way of thinking, taking various situations that pushed me to the edge to resharpen my perspective, in order to ultimately bring comfort to my darling Mom in her hours of need.

The precious ticking of a clock, savouring every minute you have. Buildings crumbling all around, almost like the ground beneath Conor is looking to swallow him up. You never want to let go of those you hold so dear in an embrace and whose hands you grip so tightly. The acceptance of the worst-case scenario is terrifying, but the suffering you’re consumed by inevitably pales in comparison. Prompting a reversal of roles. Being the tower of strength in the beautiful image you idolised for so many years.

It has been eight months since my mom was finally at peace. Her distinct laugh. Her wicked sense of humour. Her overprotective ways. And that’s just a few things i so dearly miss about her. Up until now, there was a real reluctance to revisit A Monster Calls for a second time. Reliving the film’s final moments epitomise why i believe it was the right call. A scrapbook of watercolour drawings. Like Conor, my tears may fall onto the pages. Yet the vivid colour and character of the memories shared will overpower, keeping her memory alive. In a fashion that served well. In sickness and in health.

The opening lyric of ‘Tear Up This Town’.

‘I wanna hand you my heart and let you carry the load’. 

Always Mom. Always.

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