A troupe of teenage soldiers have been tasked with holding a hostage in a remote castle in the mountains. They live a relatively care-free existence until the war gets closer and they must decide how much loyalty they owe to the organisation.
Monos is a coming of age tale for teenagers with a very uncertain future. Much of the run-time is spent humanising these kids and demonstrating their relationships as they play, train, laugh and even begin exploring sexuality together. The cast are all fantastic, authentically portraying a group of friends without cliched group dynamics or standard archetypes.
There is some real joy in the film but the kids are seldom without their rifles. Much of the first half of the film is foreboding, but the grim realities of their situation are never far from the innocence they’ve managed to retain. As the film draws near to it’s climax their situation becomes far more claustrophobic. This includes the action moving from the wide open spaces of the mountains to the oppressive confines of the jungle.
The hostage situation at the heart of the narrative is tragic as the film builds pathos for both sides. As the hostage tries to escape her horrible situation, it’s hard not to think of the terrible consequences that will befall her young captors if they fail to reclaim her. The situation is impossible and devastating.
Lord of the Flies is a clear influence on the film, and indeed the titular pig’s head makes an appearance as the children turn on each other. The film is a rich character study of young people in terrifying circumstances and is an impressive update of Golding’s narrative.
It is also one of the most gorgeous films ever filmed with the mountains, caves, jungles, rivers and homes of the film are rich in detail and romanticism. An image of one of the boys riding a house along a mountain edge set against an ocean of clouds is truly breath taking. This is a cinematic experience that emphasises the sheer beauty of the world in which these tragic characters face their destinies.
Monos is a truly beautiful work and an earnest plea for understanding. It’s a bold method of humanising the hundreds of thousands of children in the world who find themselves with rifles in their hands. It’s a compelling watch with lots of twists and new obstacles for these characters, but it’s also a tragic story of a militarised youth.