In Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Monster,” competing for Palme D’Or, a small boy and his mother, the father dead and buried, the boy’s in school and the mother works in a dry-cleaners. At the start of the film a building in their neighborhood catches fire and they watch from the balcony, mother and son looking more like two friends. She’s carefree, unaffected by the pressures of raising a son but vigilant nevertheless. They place a small cake with candles in front of a photograph of the son’s father and sing “happy birthday,”, the candles are blown and the mother says, “it’s getting smaller every year.” Time passes and memories recede into oblivion. The boy, and this is his show, is moved by something dream-like, a spirit that moves children along life but we’re made to understood it’s a potentially malevolent spirit. Something’s afoot at school. There’s suspicion of a physical assault on the boy by his teacher, the mother goes in to speak to the principal, in a scene that repeats itself, a teacher flanked by administrators walks into the principal’s office and is confronted by the mother, who wants answers. The art of the apology, the bowing, the mother cannot be placated, she comes back for more meeting, the principal is unflappable but also categorical, the school won’t accept responsibility. A younger kid in the school gets pushed around, he’s the son of the teacher being accused of physical assault.
The older boy desperately attempts to control his life by jumping out of a moving car, he’ll live, unscathed. The boys, they’re friends, are in the forest and find an abandoned train car and turn it into a playhouse. Something nearly happens between the two towards the very end of the film which makes you wonder why Hirokazu waited so long to get at what is possibly the film’s main motif? Is it homosexuality, the “monster” of the title?
Film is told from three different viewpoints, the son whose father died, the younger boy his friend and the teacher. Plot points, the son’s jumping out of a moving car, other circumstances, what led to those key moments is revealed throughout the film, Kore-eda showing us the underbelly.
Other motifs such as bullying, the afterlife, death and reincarnation, ritualization and fire leaven the storytelling, we’re privy to the world of magical children who have one foot in the living world and the other in a kingdom that’s beyond an adult’s purview.
“Monster” was a joy to watch.