The Dude loves a trip to the cinema. For him it’s the whole package of pop-corn and drink and watching a great film – for him, with plenty of action in it. So, as someone who loves the flicks too, I took him to view the latest offering from the Star Wars stable: Rogue One (which I’ve been meaning to write about for a month now…).
As well as the popcorn, part of the package for The Dude includes the trailers. I enjoy them too. A film that caught my eye that day, from among the action driven fare, was A Monster Calls. I decided to go with The Dude but was a touch nervous about taking him as I thought it’s content might worry or scare him on one level, or the lack of violent death might not engage him on another.
I was wrong on both counts. The film was great, and we enjoyed it immensely. And I was so taken by it, I bought the book.
Patrick Ness (The Knife of Never Letting Go, Monsters of Men: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Ness) created this work following an idea of the late Siobhan Dowd (1960-2007: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siobhan_Dowd) whose own works include A Swift Pure Cry and The London Eye Mystery. Ms Dowd created much of what became A Monster Calls but she never completed the project. Ness was asked by his publisher to take up the baton. Fortunately for the rest of the world, he chose to accept the challenge. He wanted to write a book Ms Dowd would enjoy, would love, but, in my humble opinion, he succeeded in creating something more (and the novel has won the Carnegie and Greenaway Literary prizes).
It’s said the book is always better than the film. Rarely is this premise overturned. Sometimes, the two art forms meet in conjoined excellence. A Monster Calls, according to this reader’s/watcher’s/writer’s point of view, does just that.
Both have the characters, the premise, idea and energy and power, but they take similarly different avenues to the themes developed in the narrative. Both focus on Conor O’Malley (played by Lewis MacDougall (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm6484968/?ref_=tt_cl_t1) in the film) and how he deals with a disease consuming his mother and the distancing world around him. The film focuses on the creative, giving both mother and Conor a talent with pencil, paint and paper, while the book never mentions any form of illustration from either. J A Bayona (with Patrick Ness’s screenplay: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3416532/?ref_=nv_sr_1) plays on different elements to drive the story to its conclusion but deviates from the novel’s Point-Blank ending for a more sedate reconciliation and discovery of hope and life, and understanding. The illustration and art in the film are employed in the telling of the stories within the story narrated by the Monster (spoken by Liam Neeson in the film: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000553/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cl_t18) that demonstrate the complexities of complicated people. The artistic bent of Conor and his Mum (Felicity Jones: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0428065/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cl_t3) ties the strands of their story neatly into a powerful and emotional bundle.
I do feel, however, that I’ve missed out as I look at my copy with its Hollywood Picture poster emblazoned on the cover and only a few doodles embellishing Ness’s essay at the back. Did the original publication include illustrations, I wonder…? (There should be more of it all books. I love a good image and we do live in a visual age… if we’ve ever lived outside of one. As Vladimir Illych Lenin said: “Illustration, illustration, illustration.” Or was that “Education, education, education”, or even “Let It Be”? Whatever. Authors, publishers, there are thousands of wonderful artists and illustrators out there. Use them, or lose them.)
Of the characters, the screenplay remains faithful to the original narrative creations but it’s the school that suffers most from a silver-screen cull. Lilly, Conor’s childhood friend, is largely dispensed with. Unfortunately. Ness uses her character to bridge the ever-widening gap between Conor and his peers in the novel. She represents willingness and the offer of a human contact in times of distress. Grandma (Sigourney Weaver: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000244/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cl_t2) shoulders the entirety of this burden in the film.
Both film and book create wonderful imagery and are powerfully moving. They are well worth the view and the read. As a would-be writer, I would always encourage people to purchase and read books. For A Monster Calls there is another, very good, reason as all purchases contribute to the Siobhan Dowd Trust (http://siobhandowdtrust.com) which supports projects bringing the joy of reading to young people.
A Monster Calls at Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/a-monster-calls/patrick-ness/siobhan-dowd/9781406339345
The film is on general release in cinemas across the UK.