Holes is a Cinematic Masterpiece


Photo courtesy of sky.com.

Scene from Holes (2003).

Lucy Roberts, Editor

Nostalgia for the movies that seemed to play on repeat permeates young adult culture. Somehow we as a generation have managed to idealize and cherish everything about the High School Musical franchise, for example, and I see at least one tweet or Instagram post about the films every week. 

This is completely understandable. When we grow up seeing something so many times we associate it with the simple pleasures of growing up that came with those many viewings. But when I watch HSM again, it’s sweet, but harmless at best and pretty dumb at worst. 

So if you were raised on Disney Channel movies like these, it makes sense to quickly relegate the 2003 film Holes as one of these nostalgic guilty pleasures. I grew up watching this movie a few times a year, I read the book and its sequel, and I did several book reports on Louis Sachar’s other novels, which were all equally entertaining to my eight year old self but never got equally well known adaptations they deserved. 

I went back to rewatch this movie a few weeks ago after discovering it under the “We think you might like:” section of Netflix. And while I expected an experience similar to rewatching terribly written but beloved tween media, I was shocked at how well the film had held up. 

If you haven’t had the privilege/pleasure of watching this movie, allow me to summarize. Stanley Yelnats (get it? His last name is his first name spelled backwards), played by a young Shia Lebouf, is always in the wrong place at the wrong time due to a curse placed on his family hundreds of years ago. Bad luck lands him in a desert correctional facility, where him and other young men are forced to dig holes every day under the instruction of some very shady camp managers, including warden Louise Walker (Sigourney Weaver), her assistant Mr. Sir, (Jon Voight), and counselor Dr. Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson). 

Throughout the film we find out why exactly the camp is being run and why the boys are being forced to dig holes through a series of flashbacks that tie into the Yelnats family curse, as well as legendary bank robber Kate Barlow (Patricia Arquette). 

In regards to the flashbacks, I have to address the elephant in the room (if you’ve seen Holes recently, you know exactly what I’m talking about). Yes, the editing is terrible. The movie is 16 years old and the superimposed shots of characters from the subplot onto the main plot mimic something I could do on iMovie. It doesn’t bother me, quite honestly. I could understand how it could be cringeworthy or a dealbreaker for some viewers, but I appreciate what the director was trying to do, so I can let it slide. 

So what’s so special about this movie? They’re just digging holes. I get how this doesn’t sound like anything revolutionary, but it kind of is. The film manages to talk about racism (through flashbacks of the town’s history), classism (through character backstories with strong themes of wealth inequality) and flaws in the justice system (Stanley’s family can’t afford a lawyer that will prove his innocence, only one that can argue him a reduced sentence). These are some heavy topics for a film aimed at 8-12 year-olds and are certainly far more complex than anything offered up by movies played with similar frequency, such as Spy Kids and Sharkboy and Lava Girl

It’s not that there’s a real issue with the movies and television shows played over and over again, but Holes, if nothing else, goes to show that media aimed at children and young adults can be enjoyable for more than just their target audiences. Films made simply to entertain are an essential part of pop culture and can often stand on their own as memorable or fun to watch, rather than truly meaningful or original. But if a movie can make a lasting impact on young audiences as well as address important social issues, why not watch more of that? Why not put a bit more thought into the films and literature we’re consuming, rather than just taking in something mindless or made with little intention outside of monetary value? 

If you’re looking for fun and heartwarming film, Holes is a great choice. But if you’re looking for something to watch multiple times, with an incredibly original plot and engaging characters, this movie is also and most definitely for you. And your family, friends, pets, and future self, for that matter.