With the 89th Annual Academy Awards taking place this coming Sunday, the TWLOHA team jumped on the opportunity to share some of their favorite films of the season. While all of our choices may not be critically acclaimed, it is a collection of cinematic works that address a myriad of inspirational journeys and thought-provoking topics. Our hope is that by highlighting these stories of human struggle, emotion, and triumph, we can share the connection between TWLOHA’s message of hope and film’s ability to make us feel and relate on a deeper level.
Reminder: This collection of films may not be suitable for everyone. Our recommendations come from personal interpretation of the films, the characters, and the stories they portray. We ask that you use discretion and recognize your own boundaries as you take our recommendations into consideration.
A Monster Calls (PG-13)
Reviewed by: Ben Tichenor (Customer Service Manager)
A story about stories, A Monster Calls, adapted from the book and subsequent screenplay by Patrick Ness, captures the intense pain experienced by the adolescent Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall). Though weighted with emotion, the film addresses the extreme dimensions to which we feel and process things like grief and the often adjacent guilt. A tale such as this resonates with many, because while we may not interact with physical monsters, we certainly wrestle with mental, emotional, and even spiritual ones. In both the film and book — inspired by an idea from the late Siobhan Dowd — Conor faces fragile relationships with his father and grandmother, along with a relentless bully at school. All the while, he is struggling to accept the impending loss of his mother (Felicity Jones) to a vicious form of cancer.
As Conor attempts to deny his reality, we see how life refuses to halt no matter his level of resistance. Pain and loss do not wait to settle upon those that are ready for it, they plunge down, forcing us to make the next move whether we’re ready to or not. In the end, Conor’s story is one of acceptance. He must grow up, he must let go, he must continue on. He must tell the truth.
“Stories are wild creatures,” says the monster, and the things we learn from them are usually not the neat and orderly lessons we tend to hope for. Life is messy and complicated and hard to explain, but as Conor discovers in the movie, getting through difficult times begins when you face your problems with honesty — and that even though bad things will happen, we can still live.
Noteworthy quote: “It’s okay that you’re angry. It really, really is. You be as angry as you need to be. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And if, one day, you look back and you feel bad for being so angry, then you have to know that it was okay. It was okay.” (pg. 167)
Manchester by the Sea (R)
Reviewed by: Bex Wilkinson (Intern Program Director)
Manchester by the Sea is the story of a broken man and his family learning to move forward.
Following Joe Chandler’s passing, it is discovered that he had wanted his brother, Lee (Casey Affleck), to become the guardian of his son Patrick (Lucas Hedges); however, neither Lee nor Patrick are ready to pick up and relocate. With two girlfriends, a hockey team, and a band, Patrick feels he has more on the line in his hometown of Manchester compared to his Uncle Lee, who lives alone in Boston as a recluse maintenance man. And though Lee has less ties to his current home, an unresolved past keeps him from wanting to move back to Manchester.
As life moves forward unannounced, both find themselves resisting their grief. While Patrick tries to stay busy with a packed social life, Lee is on the opposite end of the spectrum, staying busy with work and keeping his interactions with others to a bare minimum. All the while, the two must navigate the new course of existing together. The process is filled with heavy silences and a fair share of awkward, stressful, and even funny moments. Their time together ultimately becomes a catalyst for processing their grief.
In the film’s progression, we see how Lee’s past has affected who he has become. His choices, his relationships, and his unconscious and conscious mistakes shape his perception of himself and his outlook on life. Glimpses into a tragic past show how these events have affected his loved ones as well — their stories becoming interconnected in ways that aren’t always clean cut or easily defined.
In time, Lee begins to realize that his past doesn’t have to limit him. While it is a part of him, the past doesn’t have to continue defining his whole being. He can start new each day. He can make different choices moving forward. This revelation doesn’t erase his story, but it grants him the power to take control of his future.
As Lee embraces this new mindset, he rebuilds the relationship with his nephew and starts to process the abruptly-ended relationship with his ex-wife.
Overall, Manchester by the Sea gives us an honest look at a man amongst his pain, the power of forgiveness, and the importance of honoring stories still in progress.
Noteworthy quote: “I said a lot of terrible things to you. My heart was broken, and I know yours was broken too.”
Reviewed by: Alex Jones (Graphic Designer)
— SPOILERS AHEAD —
Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called in by the government when unassuming spacecrafts appear in various parts of the world. Throughout the film, she experiences what initially look to be flashbacks, but as the story proceeds, it becomes obvious that these glimpses are actually “flashforwards.” With the futuristic snippets, we learn of a forthcoming divorce, as well as her child’s terminal illness and inevitable death.
These moments are heavy and ladened with grief yet, even with this knowledge, Louise still chooses to continue moving forward with her impending future. While the audience gets to witness the eventual heartache that lies ahead, we also get to see the joy: intimate moments between Louise and her daughter — future memories overflowing with love and compassion.
The film’s writer, Eric Heisserer, said this of the film: “It reminds us that grief and loss affect us so deeply because we chose to connect with someone just as deeply. Despite the pain, it’s a good sign. And when we think of that loss, it’s noble to also think of the contributions that person gave us. Their presence in the world. Their echoes and footprints.”
The future can be frightening, whether you know what to expect or are completely and utterly in the dark. But we can be certain that there will be mountains and valleys — neither of which undo the other — but the strenuous climbs are more often than not worth the relief found at the tops of those mountains and in those valleys.
In addition to what we learn from Louise’s ability to embrace a future riddled with both happiness and loss, we are able to take away valuable lessons pertaining to her interactions with the extraterrestrial beings occupying the spacecrafts. While many of her peers are quick to judge and react in fear, Louise is eager to find a way to communicate in a respectful and open manner.
These recurring themes carry weight outside of the secluded movie theater — communication, unity, and understanding are essential, not only in dealing with humans and the extraterrestrial, but also in dealing with ourselves. Creating an internal dialogue allows us to fully realize, embrace, understand our emotions.
As we see with Arrival, making an effort to communicate and find empathy requires hard work and humility, but in the end, it saves the world.
Noteworthy quote: “Despite knowing the journey and where it leads…I embrace it. And I welcome every moment of it.”
See previous post: “Films That Show Us the Power of Community”