Orphans who can’t sleep sometimes get into trouble. Just ask Sophie.
One night about 3 a.m., she pokes her head out through the curtains to see what’s happening outside her London orphanage. She thinks she heard something. She knows she should stay inside. She’s scared. It is, after all, the “witching hour,” she says to herself.
She’s almost right. Actually, it’s more like the “gianting hour.”
Sophie glimpses a huge figure lumbering through London’s side-street shadows. He catches a glimpse of her glimpsing him. And that won’t do at all.
Just like that, Sophie finds herself in the giant’s clutches as he sprints out of the city, through the countryside and into a dank-but-surprisingly-well-furnished cave far to the north. She’s certain she’s going to be eaten, of course. After all, that’s what giants do with children, right?
When Sophie protests her rude kidnapping, the giant replies sheepishly, “I didn’t steal you very much. You’s just a little thing. You’s an orphan.” As if that last little fact means Sophie shouldn’t care too much about being snatched away.
The feisty little lass is determined to escape her imprisonment, to slip her captor’s clutches when he least expects it. But that’s easier said than done. The giant has no interest in Sophie spilling the secret of his existence. And, well, he’s kind of lonely. He likes his new little friend’s company.
Plus, as Sophie soon learns, there are nine other giants lurking nearby. Giants who do like to eat children. Giants with names like Bloodbottler and Fleshlumpeater. Giants who aren’t nearly as friendly—and much bigger—than the one she decides she kind of likes after all. So much so that she soon names him BFG, for Big Friendly Giant.
It’s not long before the outcast giant and orphan girl bond as fast friends. He shows her a magical pond where he catches dreams, then takes her with him as he releases them into the sleeping psyches of unsuspecting Londoners.
Everything’s going quite swimmingly, really, until BFG’s giant kin catch whiff of a human …
… and are determined to eat her just like they did the last little friend BFG brought home.
Told ya’ orphans who can’t sleep get into trouble.
It’s true that The BFG begins on a rather ominous and foreboding note: a giant kidnapping a too-curious-for-her-own-good little girl in London. But the proceedings quickly take a tender turn as spunky Sophie and her enormous captor become friends. Despite their obvious differences, they’re kindred spirits of a sort: Sophie has no love for the orphanage where she lived, while BFG has no love for his bloodthirsty brethren who continually taunt and harass him. They’re both loners, and in each other’s company they discover a delightful kinship.
BFG has a habit of mangling words and phrases, and he’s quite self-conscious about it. Near the conclusion, Sophie tells him, “I think you speak beautifully.” A beaming BFG responds, “That is the nicest present anybody’s ever given me in my entire life.”
BFG does his best to protect and hide Sophie from the other giants. In turn, Sophie inspires her giant friend to stand up for himself in the face of the other giants’ taunts and abuse. With Sophie’s encouragement, BFG makes a number of courageous choices instead of just meekly submitting to his peers’ bullying.
Sophie’s also horrified to learn that other giants are kidnapping and eating children, and she hatches an outlandish plan (involving the Queen of England) to put a stop to it. For his part, BFG is also aghast at the murderous behavior of his peers. His way of trying to make a redemptive difference is by visiting his secret pond, capturing the firefly-like dreams that live there, and giving them to the sleeping residents of London in order to make their lives just a bit more pleasant.
The BFG includes some fantastical, fairy-tale elements that offer subtle (albeit distant) echoes of some spiritual truths, including the dream pond. When he sneaks into London, he uses a trumpet-like device to blow the pseudo-spirit dreams into sleepers’ faces. (They have to be inhaled to do their dreamy work.)
BFG eventually tells Sophie that he can hear the “secret whispers” of the world, both good and bad, hidden longings that are often related to the dreams the BFG captures. Essentially, it’s implied that he knows the “heart’s desire” for everyone on earth, and that he can hear all of them if he listens carefully.
In this, BFG is similar to Santa Claus (who knows if we’ve been bad or good) and, of course, to God. Sophie takes comfort in knowing that her giant friend will always be able to hear her, even if they’re separated. Sophie’s morning greeting to a distant BFG has the feel of something very close to a prayer in that context.
Twice BFG talks about a nightmare in which he intones the phrase, “Look at what you has done. There be no forgiveness.” The first time, BFG seems to apply that idea to himself for reasons that aren’t quite clear. The second time, he’s applying it to his violent giant kin, for more obvious reasons.
We see three dream jars that read, “Liz naked at work,” “Liz naked at school” and “Liz naked at my wedding”. The camera pans across the latter jar a couple of times.
BFG’s initial kidnapping of Sophie involves him reaching through a window and grabbing her before running back to his lair. It’s the first of several mildly perilous scenes involving the girl and giants. BFG gives her a nightmare in which she’s caught and about to be eaten by one of the other giants who lurks outside the “runt” giant’s cave home. It’s a well-meant attempt to convince her that trying to flee is a bad idea. “Giants is all murderful and cannibals,” he intones.
And, with the exception of BFG (who’s a vegetarian, it seems), they are. We never actually see the other giants eating children, but we hear that they do so regularly. It’s also apparent that BFG once had another little boy living with him, a child who (it’s alluded) eventually met the same sad fate.
The giants suspect that BFG has a new little human friend, with one asking ominously, “You has a new little pretty, runt?,” then says, “I finds him, I eats him up. ” They rummage and rifle brazenly through BFG’s home in an attempt to find the girl as she stays one step ahead of them (including hiding in a cucumber-like vegetable where she’s nearly eaten).
Two giants play a rough-and-tumble jousting-like game, rolling down two opposing hills toward one another with cars acting like roller skates on their feet. (What they don’t know, and BFG does, is that little Sophie is hiding in one of the cars.) “One of the giants gets hit in the crotch.”
Sophie tests BFG’s loyalty to her by jumping off a balcony, believing that BFG will catch her (which he does).
BFG gets knocked around quite a bit by the bigger, meaner giants, eventually prompting Sophie to say, “You shouldn’t let them treat you like that. Nobody should.” [Spoiler Warning] Sophie also comes up with a plan that involves a military attack on the wicked giants, wherein helicopters capture and exile the great creatures.
We hear the British vulgarity “bloody.” BFG’s much larger giant brethren repeatedly and meanly label him “runt.”
Sophie hollers out the window of her orphanage at a group of four obviously inebriated men stumbling home loudly from the pub.
BFG has a fondness for a bright green champagne-like drink (called frobscottle) with bubbles that flow downward, a clue regarding the beverage’s effects on those who imbibe it.
The beverage mentioned above produces an explosive, green, jetlike blast of visible flatulence that BFG laughingly calls a “whizzpopper.” These eruptions are strong enough to propel the person emitting them well off his or her seat and into the air.
Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of this Roald Dahl children’s classic is a delightfully tender story contrasted with the specter of a rather macabre fate: children being eaten by giants. Thankfully, the fairy-tale proceedings here deliver much more of the former and just a hint of the latter.
There’s some action and moments of mild peril for Sophie and BFG—enough that the littlest viewers might find these sequences a bit on the intense side. But this lovely tale really is neither an action-adventure movie nor a suspenseful narrative. Instead, it’s a “love” story of sorts between a lonely little girl and the lonely “little” giant who takes her home.
In some ways, they couldn’t be more opposite: He’s big, she’s little. He’s as old as the hills, she’s not even a teenager. But in another way, BFG and Sophie share common ground as isolated outsiders longing to belong, to be known. There’s a sense of wonder, awe and vulnerability in their unfolding relationship that recalls the spirit of another beloved Spielberg classic: E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. It’s no coincidence that both scripts were penned by the same screenwriter, Melissa Mathison (who died of cancer in November 2015).
In an interview with Wired, Spielberg said of Mathison’s script for The BFG, “[It was] just such a pure love story … It’s a great wise sage, but with a very innocent outlook and a very, very young girl with an old soul. I just said to myself, ‘I don’t know if I can live without this movie in my life.'”
After Mathison’s death last year at the age of 65, Spielberg said of her, “Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave E.T.”
I think the same can be said of her final story. It’s a tall tale that combines Mathison’s heart and generosity with Spielberg’s prodigious moviemaking prowess, resulting in a rollicking, reflective and utterly delightful story suitable for all but the very youngest (or most sensitive) viewers.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.