Last weekend, I saw A Monster Calls in theaters with my mom. I’m a little biased since I’ve been waiting in anticipation of this since 2014, but it was probably one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in a long time. The special effects drew heavily off the striking nature-based book illustrations, and the acting was emotional and very-well done.
A Monster Calls follows the story of a boy named Conor whose mother is dying of a terminal illness. He comes to terms with losing his mother and the conflicted emotions surrounding this through a monster, who tells him a story each night that broadens his understanding of life. “Stories are important,” reminds the monster, “They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.”
While driving back to my university, we talked about how well the movie applied to anyone who must overcome loss in life, whether that’s loss of a loved one or something else. She asked me if I remembered a specific scene from the movie, when the monster confronts Conor about letting himself feel the truth: that his mother is dying and he must face his feelings surrounding her loss before they consume him. Conor cannot bring himself to face it.
He begs the monster to let him hide from the truth, crying that if he lets go of her, the truth will kill him.
“It will kill you,” exclaims the monster, “if you do not!”
Conor feels as to his mother is falling and he cannot catch her, and he struggles to face this but, at last, he does it. He faces the truth after months of repression and anguish.
He lets go and he is finally, finally free.
This scene stuck with my mom, and it stuck with me, too. We both, as so many do, have regrets in life. We have moments we wish we could have changed, and lying behind these moments are painful truths. We know that no matter what, we can never return to where we used to be or who we once were. We wish we hadn’t experienced certain situations, some of which may even be our fault.
And yet, such is life. No person is perfect. A Monster Calls even notes the complexity of human nature and notes that most people aren’t good or bad but “somewhere in-between.” While we dwell in the in-between, we go through experiences we wish we never had to face. But face them we must, or they will destroy us from inside out.
Neither my mom nor I fully understand why we go through hard things after watching the movie. It didn’t really answer that. Maybe sometimes there’s a reason, or maybe sometimes suffering is a part of mortality that is beyond our understanding or control. But in response to suffering, we have two choices: we can either ignore it and let the pain consume us, or we can embrace it. The latter hurts more than anything but in time, we heal.
I especially love the monster as an analogy of this process. Nothing is more horrifying than the truth, but nothing is more important, either. Often we think of pain as demons we have to struggle against at every cost, but I like the idea of embracing them, instead, and letting them go.
I’m not particularly good at facing truth but want to remember this, especially when I feel dysphoric or guilty. Pain isn’t the enemy nor something that we need to hide from. We have to face it so that we can let go.