The classic tale of a fast-growing vine is as ancient as the prophet Jonah and as modern as this film directed by Bryan Singer. But down through the centuries, the tale of a resourceful young man who outwits giants with treasure, including a golden harp that plays itself, has presented many different themes and moral lessons. In virtually all of the classic tales, the young boy returns to his mother rather than being married into a life of bliss. However, in this most recent version, the ancient tale has been woven into a love story of a common boy who rescues the princess and they marry happily ever after and regale their children with their tale of love and courage. This latest version creates a more appealing yet less complex tale.
Changing directors and writers, the partnership of Singer (Superman Returns, Valkyrie) and writers Darren Lemke (Lost) and Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie) melds a visually creative romantic tale that speaks to these long-experienced human archetypes.
The commoner who is becoming a man is the proverbial Jack (Nicholas Hault) and the young princess who is becoming a woman is the beautiful and adventurous Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson). Both are coming of age with the same desire for adventure when their paths serendipitously cross and Jack comes to her defense. It is the first of two encounters that change their lives forever.
Also part of the tale is Isabelle’s father, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) and his traitorous advisor Roderick (Stanley Tucci). Having believed what was told as a fable, Roderick has desecrated the tomb of an ancestor of the King’s and has in his possession the magic beans that grow the beanstalk and the magic crown that controls the giant. His plan to use the giants to control his kingdom as well as those surrounding them is thwarted when a monk (Simon Lowe) steals the beans. But in his attempt to escape from Roderick, he slips them to Jack. It is this transfer that brings together past and future, earth and the land of the monstrous giants.
Without spoiling this development of the tale, the many moral messages are obvious. Love is a powerful force that can bring two people together from disparate beginnings and help them overcome their differences. As the princess declares to the giant that she believes in God, it is the God of love that is at work in her life. Also shown is the destruction of betrayal and the power of courage. Both are present in virtually all situations and each person must choose whether they will be a person of courage or one who betrays for their own benefit.
It is true that there are giants that often threaten us, whether we are speaking of David of the Bible or Jack of fantasy. The way we face those giants greatly determines our future. That is a lesson worth repeating in each generation however we tell the story of Jack and his beanstalk.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. What are the giants in your life and how are you gathering the courage to face them? Who is willing to face them with you?
2. Few things in life are as painful as betrayal. Roderick had the trust of the king and the confirmed future marriage to Isabelle who would be queen. Why do you think that was not enough for him?
3. The thought that we can control the monsters of our lives by getting to the heart of the matter and crowning our efforts with that knowledge is an obvious symbolic message of the film. Have you found understanding helpful in facing the difficulties of your own life? How so?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.