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Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall). Conor’s mom (Felicity Jones) is dying of cancer, yet Conor tries to subconsciously deny it. He lacks emotional support as his father (Toby Kebbell) isn’t a big part of his life and his grandma (Sigourney Weaver) doesn’t get along with him very well. He has a recurring nightmare which we later find out is a dream that entails his mother falling into a pit as he tries to hang on to her. Conor always wakes up from this nightmare at exactly seven minutes past midnight, which we later find out is representative of Conor’s mom’s time of death.
One night when he wakes up he is faced with an actual monster (Liam Neeson) outside of his bedroom window. The monster is a yew tree by day and a terrifying tree-monster by night. The monster tells three stories to Conor that teach him a greater life lesson and eventually help Conor accept his reality.
The first story the monster tells has to do with a king and a queen. The king in this story fought a battle in which his sons died, leaving only behind his infant grandson. Due to grieving the loss of her sons, the king’s wife died of heartbreak. After this death, the king remarried someone who was later accused of trying to position the king. Although, we later find out he died of natural causes. When the king died, his new princess became queen. Soon after, the grandson met a farm girl and fell in love with her.
One day, though, the prince woke up to her lying dead next to a knife and then sees the blood on his hands. He decides that this was a setup and that the queen had the girl murdered and framed him. Later in the story, though, we find out that that the prince hated the queen, therefore his solution was to kill the princess, tell the villagers it's the queen's fault, and have her punished for his doing. This story relates back to Conor’s own life as the king represents Conor’s mom, the prince represents Conor, and the queen represents Conor’s grandma.
Like the king was dying from natural causes, Conor’s mom is as well. Like the queen was blamed for the death of the king, Conor also blames his grandma for the death of his mother as his grandmother believes she has no chance at overcoming the illness. In the story, the prince sees blood on his own hands which represents how Conor feels at the end of the story when he realizes he just wants things to be over. Although Conor doesn’t end up ruling forever as the prince, he is able to end the dreadful wait of his mother’s passing. As the prince tried framing the queen for his girlfriend's death, Conor tries to pass the blame on his grandma for his mother’s death since that’s easier for him to deal with than realizing his own “selfish” desires and facing the punishment or shame for them. Just as the queen was in control after the king's death, Conor’s grandma would be in control of raising Conor after his mother’s passing. Like the queen isn’t pleased with the prince's new girlfriend, Conor’s grandma is not pleased with the fact that Conor constantly denies the reality of his mom’s illness. At the end of this story, the monster also reveals that there’s good and bad in everyone.
The second story takes place during the industrial revolution. We are presented with the town’s apothecary which is someone who makes medicine from natural resources. Although, this medicine is harder to find due to the land being covered in factories. Due to the greediness of the apothecary, people start seeking more modern remedies from more modern doctors which makes him bitter. In this story, the monster also speaks of a parson with two daughters. The parson lives on the grounds of a yew tree which the apothecary desires barks from as it's supposed to be a cure-all solution. Although, the only way to use the tree is to cut it down which the parson doesn’t allow. The parson eventual decides to cut the tree down when the doctors can’t help his daughters. Suddenly the parson finds himself begging the Apothecary for help saying he’ll give up anything, including his beliefs. This relates to Conor’s life because he sees his grandma as both the apathetic and the parson. In the beginning, Connor sees her as the apathetic because to him, she is outdated, wrong, and weird. That changes near the end of the story, though, when he sees his grandma as the parson. Conor sees that she’s lost her belief in her daughter to be okay from cancer. Connor wants a cure all for his mom, yet all of the treatments his mom has tried aren’t working.
The final story the monster tells Conor is about an “invisible” man who was tired of being unseen. “It was not that he was actually invisible, it was just the people who had become used to not seeing him. One day the invisible man couldn’t stand it anymore. He kept wondering if no sees you, are you really there at all?” After the monsters tells Conor this story, he ends up fighting the boy that’s been bullying him. Although Conor should get expelled, the principle decides that expelling him would be of no benefit. This leaves Conor feeling unseen again as he just wants to be treated normal. From this, we know that the invisible man in the story is Conor. He’s been dealing with being bullied ever since his mom got ill and it’s gotten to the point to where Conor can no longer contain his anger. The fight with the bully may also be representative of Conor’s internal conflict.
From all of these stories, Conor was able to learn lessons that he can apply to his own life. Through this journey, we learn that the monster seems to be the internal conflict that Conor wrestles with. Through Conor’s encounters with the monster, we see his struggles dealing with the reality of loss and truth. After watching this heartbreaking film, we are able to watch Conor’s problems unfold and get to the bottom line. He ultimately doesn’t want his mom to die, but because he knows it’s eventually going to happen he desires for his internal suffering and deep depression to be over.
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