Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rating: Four stars
MAKING IT BIG
While watching The BFG, I couldn’t escape that word ‘big’. The Big Friendly Giant was himself some 24 ft tall. The scale of the film itself seemed mammoth, but most of all, the film had a really big heart. If you adored Mary Poppins as a child, chances are you’ll love BFG. The film is delectably British. Like ‘supercalifragilistic’, BFG invents words that are great fun to roll your tongue around – ‘scrumdiddlyumptious’, ‘gobblefunk’, ‘whizpopping’. Importantly, however, both movies manufacture fantastic worlds without ever patronising the intelligence of children. The visual effects, stunning in each case, leave you in awe without encumbering the narrative. There’s big delight here.
In many ways, the film seems like a culmination for Steven Spielberg. Jurassic Park, for instance, does much the same thing. Humans are juxtaposed with creatures that are gargantuan in size. Though the two Spielberg films that BFG is closest to are the Hook and E.T. In Hook, Jack and Maggie are abducted from their nursery’s window and taken to Neverland. In BFG too, the giant (Mark Rylance) pokes his finger through the window of an orphanage and plucks Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) out of her bed. Melissa Mathison, who died soon after finishing her draft of BFG, had also written the screenplay for E.T. The premise for both stories is practically the same. A child forges a warm friendship with a being that isn’t human. In time, they rub off on each other and beat possible odds.
Based on a 1982 novel by Roald Dahl, the plot of BFG couldn’t be simpler. After being taken away to Giant Country by the giant, Sophie develops a great fondness for him. There’s no Stockholm syndrome that’s at play here. Their relationship is marked by genuine warmth and empathy. Both characters are alone in their worlds. Sophie’s parents died when she was little and the giant is bullied by his community, not just because he is much smaller than the behemoths who’re his neighbours, but also because he isn’t cannibalistic like them. Called Flushlumpeater, Childchewer and Meatdripper, these giants soon smell human flesh and Sophie must be saved by her only friend.
Of all people, it is the Queen who intervenes, and one of the film’s funniest moments comes when Penelope Wilton picks up the phone and asks Nancy to put Ronny on the line (a clear reference to the Reagans.) When in the Buckingham Palace, Rylance plays BFG with a gentle awkwardness that is immediately charming. He breaks a chandelier and spits out his coffee. Sophie shakes her head disapprovingly and it is in this comedy of errors that Spielberg does what he does best – he amplifies the affinity shared by his characters with a subtle tenderness. Barnhill, as the precocious and compassionate Sophie, is a treat to watch. You hear her voice even hours after having seen the film.
Even for a giant, BFG’s ears are a tad huge. He uses them to hear the “secret whisperings of the world”. By profession, the giant is a dream catcher. He goes to Dream Country and he bottles dreams in glass jars the way children catch fireflies. Using a trumpet-like contraption, he then blows them into the mouths of sleeping Londoners, adding colour to their sleep. BFG, it can safely be said, is Spielberg playing just that kind of a trumpet. Sweet dreams are made of this, and even Roald Dahl, who’s centennial is set to be celebrated in September this year, wouldn’t have the heart to disagree.