Filmmaker: Johannes Weiland & Uwe Heidschotter
Year made: 2009
Length: 6′ 59″
Technique: computer animation
The film was made for KI.KA, the children’s channel from ZDF, a German TV channel. It deals with the emotional difficulties faced by children and parents following the breakdown of the parents’ relationship. The film therefore differs from the others in this collection in that it is made with a specific therapeutic purpose in mind: not necessarily just for children in troubled families but for their friends and peers as well. The film is centred on a young boy whose parents have already split up: the main ‘beast’ of the title is in fact his mother who is seriously depressed after the father’s departure, the father is also seen as a ‘beast’ when he picks up the boy for a visit.
The central metaphor rests on the idea that parents who are depressed or angry with each other are perceived by their children as monsters who look frightening but who actually need care and patience. So the ‘beasts’ are shown as conventional ‘monster’ figures but at the same time not as figures to be feared. So at the ‘beast’s’ first appearance – her shadow looms menacingly over the boy – we expect him to look round in terror, but in fact he simply looks a bit sad and tired. The film is presented, almost light-heartedly, as helpful advice to others who may have ‘beasts’ to look after. Walking in the park, visiting the supermarket and life at home, are all depicted. Almost comical situations lead into more challenging emotional issues. No easy solution is offered: the mother does get better, gradually turning back from ‘beast’ to normal human being, and she may have started a new relationship, but the father remains a ‘beast’ at the end.
You should prepare well for discussing this film with children: consider getting parental approval, for example. The film is narrated by a child, in German with English subtitles, but you should not be put off by this. Most children are used to reading text on screen, from websites and computer games. You may find that they can read subtitles more easily than you expect.
Things you might notice
* The importance of time to the story and how time is managed: the opening shot shows trees in blossom, the scene in which the mother is shown as restored to normality takes place in winter, the final scene when the boy runs from his mother and her new friend to his father waiting in the car seems to be summertime again (so the timeframe is at least 18 months).
* The two ‘matching’ scenes in the park with the dog, each framed in the same way with the mother’s shadow looming over the boy, but with key differences: a low-angle-shot of the mother as monster in the first scene, but a long-shot of ‘normal’ mother and son in the second. The dog snarling in the first scene and being friendly in the second.
* The two ‘matching’ scenes in the supermarket in which the boy’s selection of lollipops, the encounter with the check-out man, and the woman behind them in the queue, are each handled differently in the later scene.
* The ‘new friend’ is the checkout man!
Themes to explore
Metaphor: Children may not at first realize that the mother isn’t really a beast and it may be interesting to discuss when, and why, they realised that the beast figure is a metaphor. They might also want to discuss the effectiveness of this metaphor: beasts are usually thought of as horrible and fierce but note that even the first reaction we see from the boy is merely a sad grunt, not fear.
‘Documentary’ tone: While the visuals present a conventional and apparently fictional narrative, the commentary takes a more philosophical, generalising tone, and avoids first person verb forms until the very end. For example “You have to take care of everything by yourself, just as if she wasn’t there at all” and “That’s why most people don’t want to deal with beasts” are presented more as advice to others in the same situation.
Therapeutic effects: You will have to feel sure of your ground if you decide to explore this but the film is clearly made to help children understand the effects of a breakdown in parental relationships and how to deal with them. You might feel it appropriate to explore how well they feel it does this. One notable point is that we do not see the actual separation of the parents, only the consequences; and that although the boy is shown at times as anxious, annoyed, embarrassed etc, he is never shown as sad or despairing.