At the heart of Steven Spielberg’s latest fantasy drama, The BFG, lies a rather simple question, but one that stills merits attention – to what extent can differences affect meaningful relationships? Consider the two principal characters of the film: the eponymous Big Friendly Giant (BFG) and a young girl called Sophie (Ruby Barnhill). The BFG (Mark Rylance) is 24-feet tall; when he walks the ground beneath him shakes and shivers. Sophie’s barely five-feet. The BFG’s been living forever (since the time the Earth came into being); Sophie’s not even a teenager. The BFG can create dreams; Sophie has trouble getting sleep.
One night, when Sophie sees the BFG outside the window of her orphanage, he cups her in his arm and takes her away to the Giant Country, so that she can’t reveal the existence of giants to anyone. In the Giant Country, the BFG lives with nine other man-eating giants. Despite the obvious differences between the BFG and Sophie, the two bond, because they aren’t different from each other. Both are orphans, loners and perpetually fearful – Sophie of being locked in the basement of the orphanage (by its matron), and the BFG of being bullied by other man-eating giants who, unlike him, aren’t vegetarians.
A creator of dreams, BFG takes Sophie to Dream Country, an alternate world where possibilities are endless, where dreams are bright balls of lights that escape being captured and where it’s possible to be one with nature. It’s difficult to remain indifferent to this endearing premise, which so earnestly believes in the idea of genuine happiness, of people wanting and waiting to be accepted. But The BFG, with a runtime of 117 minutes, also drags in parts and feels predictable, especially in portions where man-eating giants are trying to hunt Sophie. We know she won’t get caught; we know that Sophie and the BFG will hatch a plan together to defeat the man-eating giants by the film’s climax; we know that all’s well because it’ll end well.
So the film comes alive not when it’s trying to advance a plot (which is anyway paper-thin to begin with), but when it’s revelling in its whimsy, comical moments. For instance, in that wonderful scene, where BFG and Sophie, hoping to enlist the help of the British Army to defeat the giants, find themselves in Buckingham Palace, having breakfast with the Queen. In the palace, the BFG is clearly an aberration – an outsider – and yet he’s treated with respect. He is, of course, treated differently, but it’s done so to accommodate him, not exclude him – a scene that imagines a utopian world where no one’s xenophobic. The Queen and Sophie sit at the same table and are served breakfast. The BFG sits a few feet away from them in the same dining room, but every measure is taken to make him feel comfortable. A huge table and chair, whose cushion bends under his weight, is set for him. Hundreds of fried eggs and breads are laid out in front of him, and he relishes them with spoon and fork the size of swords. This scene, like quite a few others, is funny, but it also rings with a heart-warming truth.
To its credit, The BFG doesn’t try too hard to be funny or cute. Spielberg’s intention here, it seems, is to tell a simple moral tale (adapted from Roald Dahl’s 1982 children book, The BFG) without being preachy and he succeeds at that. Having said that, with this film, Spielberg isn’t being ambitious and, hence, risking a lot. Which results in a pleasant experience but nothing that’s very remarkable or memorable.