The BFG (2016)

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The BFG is a pretty heartwarming movie, and if you haven’t seen it, just watch the recent Apple holiday Frankenstein commercial.  That’s basically The Big Friend Giant in a nutshell.  The story is about outsiders fitting in.  You have the orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill),  who becomes the adopted granddaughter of the Queen, and you have BFG (Mark Rylance) whom Sophie convinces to stand up for himself against the other, larger giants.

It’s a very simple story, and I’ll recap it briefly.  Sophie is an insomniac living in a large orphanage.  One night she sees the giant, and the giant grabs her from her bedroom.  She’s scared for her life, of course, but he explains that he couldn’t let her run around spreading word of giants.  They become good friends, especially after Sophie witnesses how the bigger giants bully BFG and take advantage of him.  BFG is the only giant who does not eat children.  The other giants are rather ravenous, and they would love to eat another “bean” (human being).

When one of the other giants finds Sophie’s blanket, it confirms his suspicions that there is indeed a “bean” nearby.  He knows BFG is hiding her because he’s done this before, and last time he lost his human friend to the other giants’ stomachs.  So BFG returns Sophie home, but she convinces him to bring her back to the land of the giants.  Sophie learns about dreams and how BFG bottles up wild dreams and then crafts them into elixirs that he breathes into the humans when they sleep.  In other words, we dream because of BFG.

Sophie concocts a plan to create a dream for the Queen, and then when the Queen wakes up, Sophie will be right there.  The dream is about how giants have been stealing children from windows (the bad giants), and Sophie tells her about BFG.  BFG is welcomed by the Queen, and then he leads the military to the land of Giants to capture those other bullies and airlift them to an island where they can never eat another child again.

BFG is a rather adorable old fella.  He’s played by Mark Rylance, the Soviet spy in Spielberg’s previous film Bridge of Spies.  He doesn’t emote a whole lot in that film, but he’s got a weary yet childlike and full-faced smile.  The film ends with a longer than normal shot of him smiling as he thinks about Sophie, and it’s the perfect way to finish the film.  There’s nothing all that impactful about the story, but it just makes you feel nice.  The script covers dreams, outcasts, bullies, unlikely friendships, thoughtful authority figures, a caring giant and dogs and cats.

Everything works out perfectly in the end.  Sophie gets her adoptive (wealthy) family, and BFG, despite his grandeur, finally learns to not feel so small.  I really enjoyed watching certain scenes in this film, mainly the times when BFG wanders through the streets of London.  He had a very playful interaction with the city in terms of how he would blend in at night when a human was nearby.  BFG is surprisingly nimble for an old guy.  He feels like he could be 8 or 800.

The only thing to really dig into here is the representation of the bully giants.  They’re large, certainly and generally muscle bound (contrasting with BFG’s slight build).  They’re simple-minded, aggressive, run in a pack, don’t think for themselves, afraid of rain and scared of fire.  They’re very primitive, I suppose.  The leader (voiced by Jemaine Clement) terrorizes BFG even as he goes to him to bandage his cuts.  When I think about the landscape of the film I wonder why BFG even bothers living there.  Sure he’s got an impressively intricate home in the hillside, and I’m guessing the giants were raised together but they’re assholes so why doesn’t he leave?  Okay, now this raises a lot of questions.  There were maybe 7 or 8 bully giants alongside BFG.  None of then were women, so I’m left to wonder if they have some sort of Children of Men situation over there.  Are they a dying breed?  If so, do they realize it?  The bullies wouldn’t know it, but BFG should probably be aware of it.  This is a children’s movie, so they would never cover something like extinction of a specific species, but if it is the case that the giants are dying off, that makes BFG all that more of a tragic yet inspiring character.  He’s definitely bordering on elderly, and he has no friends.  The only friend he did have was eaten.  So BFG’s just been beaten down over the years, keeping a distance from people for fear of hurting them.  In fact, most of what he does is out of fear.  He’s gentle yet very distant.  He only picks up Sophie because he’s worried she’ll expose him and the other giants.

And what of his family?  Maybe he had a family, at least parents for sure, but they’re all gone.  Man, what a poor guy.  So his relationship with Sophie is almost the entire world to him.  That’s why he trusts her plan to reveal himself to the humans, and that’s why it’s so heartwarming to see them accept him.  Most films about dealing with the other (such as Arrival) show groups of humans acting irrationally and with violence towards anything new or different.  Just look at Bridge of Spies for example.  That painted a picture of a large group of people afflicted by fear of something they don’t completely understand.  If BFG were to show up in 1957 New York, I’m sure he would have been obliterated.  But this is a nice tale of good things happening.  BFG shows up at the Queen’s estate, and everyone stands down when Sophie insists he’s okay.  They don’t simply not hurt him, though, because they then go out of their way to seat him at a large table with a large chair and serve him a very large breakfast.  The chef beams with pride when BFG proclaims how delicious it is.

So I very recently watched War Horse and spoke down against its sentimentality because it just didn’t work for me.  I still dislike that film, but I think Spielberg accomplished here what he tried to do there.  This is all subjective, of course, and a lot of people seemed to like War Horse, but this film celebrated its sentimentality through creative means.  By that I mean the breakfast scene wasn’t a run of the mill scene.  I enjoyed watching how BFG approached all this new food and new people and how they approached him.  There was some apprehension before the smiles broke out.  Maybe it’s just because I didn’t fully expect him to be so welcomed that I enjoyed the result a lot more than War Horse which was full of scenes with expected endings.  Or maybe you disagree, but I suppose sentimentality isn’t always such a bad thing, even when it doesn’t work.

Last thing: I’ve got to wonder what other nations think when the British military goes on a sudden mission that no one knows about.  BFG indicated that the land of Giants was beyond the United Kingdom, meaning they at least approached a nearby nation.  There had to have been another country that observed their military movement and was scared something might be about to happen.  That would never be covered in a children’s film like this, but I like to analyze perceived implications.  I don’t really know anything about the military anyway.

 

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