I was shocked when I found The Chocolate War novel available on the shelves of our local public library. I was 13 years old. My shock was not in finding a book that my 8th grade teacher dissentiously told us was banned curriculum by the “buffoons” on our school board, but that other boys in my class hadn’t beaten me to it. The teacher didn’t tell us why it was banned, only that it was a great but “brutal” book about a boy’s Catholic school, and that meant one thing to me: masturbation scenes.
The book turned out to have some references to masturbation and some course sexual language, but the buffoonery about The Chocolate War , that has followed the novel since its 1974 publication, was never about keeping teenagers hands out of their trousers. That’s been all about keeping young hands off an effectively conceived object lesson on the intimidation, conformity, and the utility of mob behavior. With some plot adjustments, I think The Chocolate War movie is pretty faithful to the novel in tone, pace, and object lesson.
A new kid at a working class boy’s school declines to participate in the school’s chocolate candy fundraiser and he gets sucked into a battle of wills between a corrupt headmaster and a powerful secret society of student trouble makers. Both powers use the kid’s defiance as a propaganda tool and ultimately, as a consequence, destroy him.
The direction and editing of this movie comes off a little novice, but the complex story is held up by strong adaptation and solid acting. I’m interested in one critical flaw shared between the novel and the movie and that is the character of the kid, Jerry. He is a sort of blank page on which the other characters draw his image as a hero or an anarchist to suit their agenda. It’s a deliberate artistic choice that fits into the scheme of the story, but, from the reader/viewer’s point of view, Jerry is unknowable and unsympathetic. I think the story lacks some emotional grit.