Just as there are levels of perception and reasoning, there might be levels of enchantment—the last different from the first two because levels of enchantment diminish as we get older. Steven Spielberg’s The BFG takes us back through those levels, and then—like the giant the film is about—gently returns us to the real world. The film is so artfully made—keeping one human foot in the real world and one giant foot in make-believe—that I found my watching, listening consciousness trying to merge with the storytelling point-of-view. This is one effect of Melissa Mathison’s rich adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s story, Steven Spielberg’s sensitive realization of her screenplay, and the chemistry—nay, magic—between the principal actors: Mark Rylance as BFG, and Ruby Barnhill as Sophie, the orphaned girl.
One of ten giants in what he calls Giant Country, BFG is unlike the others: he is smaller, does not eat meat, and, instead of being a hunter, is a servant of the human race, serving as their dreamcatcher. It is in carrying out his dreamcatching duties that he meets Sophie. Different from the other children, she has insomnia, walks the halls of the orphanage in the twilight hours, and smuggles books into her bed to read.
Soon after their meeting, BFG takes Sophie to the place where he catches dreams. It is nighttime, and we see an enormous tree and a crystal-clear lake. Dreams dart through the tree as it spreads across the sky like the heavens—its many long branches a constellation, and the dreams its stars. It is here that, at BFG’s urging, Sophie takes the first of two leaps, plunging into the lake and discovering the mirror world of the one above.
Later, Sophie tries to avoid capture by a meat-eating giant and hides in a large vegetable from BFG's garden, becoming saturated from head to toe in its gooey juices. When she emerges, she needs to be cleaned and to change her clothes. When BFG looked at her and determined what to do, I couldn’t help but think of the scene in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in which the Mad Hatter made a dress for Alice with a few Edward Scissorhands movements and a bit of cloth. Instead, BFG drenches her with water, then brings her a trunk in which he has stored some human clothes. He empties the trunk at her feet, and she chooses what to wear and changes beneath a blanket. Thinking about this, I see the cache of clothes as representing the relationship between BFG and the humans he tends as the dreamcatcher. Their worlds are in contact, but only in fragile and fleeting ways that leave each other untouched; all that remains of these times are a few artifacts, to be stored and forgotten. When Sophie, having chosen a plain dress and a red jacket with black braid, stands before BFG, memories rush across his face, and we sense some pain, loss. Sophie asks him to explain, but he shakes his head and doesn’t reply. This moment portends not only the joys of their friendship but also the sadness of their parting.
Eventually, BFG determines that Giant Country is too dangerous for Sophie and returns her to the orphanage. It is then that Sophie takes the second of her leaps, this time at the urging of her own heart.
The last part of the film has several surprising developments, and I won’t spoil The BFG for people by describing how they come to be. I’ll just provide a few details.
Sophie and BFG dine with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, and outrageous, giant-sized jokes of just the sort to tickle young funny bones occur. Shortly after, we see military planes and paratroopers in a pitched battle in Giant Country, but before this, one of the film’s best scenes takes place. In a quiet, meditative moment, BFG and Sophie discuss the future. All the tenderness that the story has woven about them is manifested in their gentle voices, the angle at which the sun strikes the hillside they sit on, and the soft wind. In Sophie’s contemplative look is a question about the permanence of the love she has developed for BFG.
Goodness (BFG) and Innocence (Sophie) are not only compatible but also meant for each other, and the certainty of this makes us better people when the movie concludes and we step back into the real world.