A Monster Calls
by director J.A. Bayona
We all have favorite stories. Stories we hear as children and that stay with us forever. Stories we discover as adults and never get tired of listening to. A Monster Calls is about the power of stories to transform our life, and about our need of fantasy to understand reality.
A Monster Calls tells the story of Conor, a twelve-year-old boy whose life has become unbearable: he is being bullied at school and his mother is terribly sick. But then one night a monster, looking like a tree, shows up in front of his window to tell him three stories. In exchange the monster will ask Conor for a fourth, and it will be the most difficult thing of all: the truth.
Patrick Ness authored the book, from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd, on which our film is based. It fascinated me how Patrick wrote about the healing power of truth. For him it is important to separate reality from the truth, and that carried into his screenplay for our movie. Conor doesn’t accept his reality; he can’t find any purpose, any sense of justice or meaning attached. But in the end he will be able to cope with it through the lessons learned from the monster’s tales—and through his telling of the truth.
Making A Monster Calls, I marveled at how much I was able to immerse myself in so many facets of this story. My father taught me how to draw. As a kid, I drew all the time. Patrick and I decided this would become a defining characteristic of Conor, which helped me to feel the story as mine and also to find a way to visualize the rich inner world of kids. Unconsciously I was trying to find my truth and express it out loud the same way Conor does.
Writing is one mode of storytelling. Drawing is another one. Film is yet another. I saw an opportunity to explore storytelling in all of its forms with A Monster Calls. From the opening credits we are off and running through a kid’s imagination. We see what Conor sees and feel what he feels with the same level of intensity. In so many respects, I am that boy, and I hope that men and women, boys and girls who see A Monster Calls will identify with Conor and with his mother.
A Monster Calls is not a movie for children but rather a story about childhood. It is also an exploration of the complexities of growing up. It’s about dealing with things being not black-or-white but black and white at the same time. It’s about accepting the uncertainty of life.
In a time where the truth matters less and less we need to defend it more than ever to survive. Our world is more full of information yet more empty of knowledge. This is why we need good stories. This is why we write, why we read, why we watch movies, sing, take pictures, create, or draw.