From Page to Screen: A Monster Calls

About the Book: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

The book opens with the great opening line: ‘The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.’ But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare. The reader quickly becomes aware that Conor’s nightmare is related to his mother’s illness and represent his deepest, darkest fears about the future – fears he can’t express openly. The monster tells Conor a number of tales which each have a message. For example, that people’s intentions and feelings may be hidden and contrary to their public face.  Perhaps he’s got it wrong about his dreadful Grandma after all? In the end, the monster helps Conor to confront the guilt and anger he’s been hiding deep within himself. This wonderful, but very sad, book seeks to communicate what it’s like to experience the loss of a loved one in an accessible way to readers of all ages.

Read my review of the book here.

About the Film: A Monster Calls (2016)

A Monster Calls is directed by J. A. Bayona from a screenplay by Patrick Ness based on his own novel. The film stars Lewis MacDougall as Conor, Felicity Jones as his mother and Sigourney Weaver as his grandmother. The monster is voiced by Liam Neeson.

More information about the film can be found here.

Book v Film

What a tough task the filmmakers set themselves. To film a much-loved book with an extremely sad ending and to bring to life on the screen a monster who emerges from an ancient yew tree.  In the main they succeed, particularly with the monster which I thought was a fantastic representation of the creature seen in the illustrated edition of the book. By turns frightening, wrathful and wise, it is unrelenting in its insistence that Conor must face his fears. The scene in which the monster first comes to life is terrifically done.

In the main the film follows the narrative of the book although the nature of Conor’s mother’s illness is made more explicit. More screen time is given to the relationship between Conor and his father but to my mind this is largely superfluous.   My one disappointment was the way the tales told by the monster were dramatized which I felt lacked imagination, although judging by other reviews I seem to be in the minority in this. In the closing scenes, in an addenda to the book, the director also chooses to suggest that Conor is not the only person who has seen or summoned the monster.

I thought Lewis MacDougall’s performance as Conor was tremendous and Liam Neeson was a great choice for the voice of the monster. Felicity Jones gets relatively little screen time but all her scenes have impact.

The Verdict

I enjoyed the film and admired much of it, particularly the way in which the monster was brought to life. It is well-crafted with great special effects and fine performances. However, for me the book wins hands down because I think the story works because it evokes a deeply personal response from each reader.   No surprise there.  I gave the book 5/5 and it would take a magnificent film to beat that.

What do you think? Have you read the book or seen the film?

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