The BFG: An enchanting journey

I’ve always been too awkward, too self-conscious, to laugh out loud in theatres. But there were parts in Steven Spielberg’s The BFG that blew all reticence into smithereens, that inspired the sort of wide-eyed wonder and unabashed laughter we all promised our childhood selves we’d safeguard into adulthood. For those of us whose birthdays were never good enough for lack of an admission letter from Hogwarts, The BFG is the closest a film has come in a long time to waking the child inside, providing the assurance that life’s quite all right and encouraging us to dream away. The whiff of Harry Potter that pervades through the film perhaps has something to do with John Williams composing music. He made music for the first three Harry Potter films after all. Or perhaps it has do something with the story being about an abused orphan who can’t wait to escape the shackles of her orphanage. Or perhaps it has do with the magicality of the world she goes on to inhabit. Or perhaps it has do with the film being an adaptation of a children’s book (The BFG by Roald Dahl).

It’s a pity that The BFG that had its international release a month ago hasn’t quite set the box office on fire, for it shows what a difference filmmakers of the calibre of Steven Spielberg can make, when they handle such ‘small’ films. Spielberg imbues the story world with a soul that’s often found missing in many enjoyable Hollywood films made for children, like, say, the recent The Secret Life of Pets. When made with such earnestness, it makes you, the adult, not just simply tolerate ‘the scenes made for children’, but discover the very child in you.

Genre: Fantasy adventure
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Rebecca Hall, Bill Hader
Storyline: Little Sophie realises just how little she is when she goes on an adventure with the Big Friendly Giant

The mood is set as early as in the first scene when Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) peers out of her window, and spots a giant sneaking around in the neighbourhood. When the giant, played by the utterly convincing Mark Rylance, carries her away, her bedsheet and all, you’re reminded of the irony of Sophie telling off a few unruly drunks for calling her “little missy”. As the Big Friendly Giant (BFG) gambols away with little Sophie in his palm, like she were a trinket he chanced upon on the road, you know that her call to adventure has officially commenced. But as BFG realises, the hard part isn’t carrying her to Giant Land; it is in protecting her from the other man-eating giants—the Gizzardgumper, the Meatdripper, the Bloodbottler, and the Butcherboy— and in making his place habitable for her. I loved how BFG uses his colossal palm to mitigate the force of the water, so Sophie can take bath. I loved how he realises that the fireplace is a bit too hot for her to dry herself later… how his hand-kerchiefs are like blankets to her, and vice-versa.

It is delightful when this situation gets turned over its head eventually, as BFG partakes in a feast at the royal household, and it is now the turn of humans to think up inventive ways to accommodate a giant who finds even the royal palace so small that he has to crawl in the corridors. The ludicrousness of how they use a piano to manufacture a seat for BFG, how a garden sprinkler is used to pour coffee, is all, to put it simply, so much fun to behold. The jokes write themselves when your situation has the Queen of England coming face-to-face with an awkward giant, who “doesn’t have the foggiest idea in the wonky world” about civilised life.

BFG’s language, incidentally, is a running joke through the film, and it’s all classic Dahl. A TV is a telly-telly bunkum box, a radio is a radio squeaker, a pumpkin pie is a frumpkin fie… He even has a word, the whizzpopper, that makes even something like flatulence seem bewitchingly wondrous. And therein lies the beauty of The BFG that manages to make the most mundane things explode with life and magic. Is that a lamp post you saw on the road, or a giant in disguise? So long as you’re watching The BFG, you feel like the world is devoid of troubles, like it is probably a jolly good place after all. Isn’t that what we go to theatres for, after all?

This review was written for The Hindu. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.

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