In sharp contrast to most movies directed at 10-15-year-olds (come to think of it, to most movies of any kind), “Holes” respects the intelligence of its audience. It is even willing to challenge them, and that makes it a movie for everyone in the family to treasure.
Adapted by Louis Sacher from his Newbery award-winning book, this is the story of Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf), whose name is the same backwards and forwards, a palindrome. Stanley is wrongfully accused of stealing a very valuable pair of sneakers and sentenced to a juvenile facility in the desert. Each boy there is required to dig a five-foot-deep hole every day. They are told it is to help them develop character, but could it be that the Warden (Sigourney Weaver) is looking for something that just might be buried in the endless stretch of sand that once was Green Lake?
We cannot understand the answer to that question until we learn the stories of Stanley’s pig-stealing great-great grandfather, who was cursed by a gypsy, and of the notorious outlaw of the Old West, Kissin’ Kate Barlow, who left lipstick kissprints on the faces of the men she killed.
These two stories are interwoven with Stanley’s, providing counterpoint and illumination.
Author Louis Sacher (who appears briefly as a man who is going bald) adapted his own story, and it retains all of the complexity and understated, offbeat charm of the book. The adult actors are excellent, especially Arquette and Hill, but the kids are the center of the story, and they handle it beautifully. Khleo Thomas is wonderfully engaging as Zero.
Parents should know that the movie deals frankly with some very serious issues, including racism, injustice, and the sometimes tragic consequences of poor choices. The boys at Green Lake are not beaten, but they are treated very badly and do not always treat each other very well. Characters are in intense peril and some are killed. There is a gross wound and a character throws up on screen. A character commits suicide. There is some strong language for a PG movie. There are very devoted and loyal inter-racial relationships, including one that ends tragically due to prejudice.
Families who see this movie should talk about its themes of fate and choice. What actions in the movie seem to have been decided by fate (or a curse) and what were decided by the characters? How much of our present is influenced by or determined by the past? There are even more connections between the three stories than you see at first. How many can you find? If you pay close attention, there is something significant about when the boys use their real names and when they use their tough nicknames. What does that tell you? Why doesn’t Stanley tell the truth in his letter to his mother? How is Stanley different at the end of the movie?
“Holes” is also a good story to introduce young readers to the idea that the setting of a story can tell you something about the characters. Green Lake appears in very different form in the three stories. What does that tell you about what is going on with the people in the stories?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and “Tuck Everlasting.” They should read the book and the companion volume, Stanley Yelnats’ Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake, as well as some of Sacher’s other terrific books.