October 30, 2011

Matilda’s Rights

Filed under: Idiot Box,Think About It!,Youth Rights — Katrina @ 7:10 pm

So the movie “Matilda” has been playing on TV a bit lately. Based on the Roald Dahl book, it came out in 1996. I remember seeing it in theaters. I was 13 at the time.

Matilda is a little telekinetic genius who is stuck with a family that decidedly hates her. Seriously, day she was born, her parents were for some reason pissed and didn’t want her. From then on she’s pretty much neglected entirely. It’s okay because she’s a genius (whether because her neglect meant she had to take care of herself or because of some hardwired gift, it’s unclear, maybe both) and made herself some pancakes instead of the canned soup her mom left for her.

Anyway, she teaches herself to read, gets herself to the library by herself at age four, and the librarian, instead of calling the cops because a little four-year-old is out walking around by herself, helps her find some books. Then she tells her dad she’s supposed to be in school, because she wants to learn more and actually interact with other kids. Her dad refuses until tyrannical headmistress Trunchbull shows up and mentions she has a school, and the dad figures the school seems abusive enough for the daughter he hates.

Matilda is all happy and gets to the school, only for a girl with pigtails that annoy Trunchbull to get THROWN OVER THE GODDAMN FENCE BY HER HAIR! And is unharmed somehow. The kids say they try to tell their parents about what happens there but the parents don’t believe them, in what is surely Ron Clark’s wet dream. And that makes sense, considering any parents who send their kids to that school obviously hate them and are probably glad they’re being hurled over fences and put into the “chokey”. Except the pigtail girl mentioned her mom thought the pigtails were “sweet”. Did mom intend for Trunchbull to lose her shit over the pigtails and throw the girl over the fence then? Because this mom must be one of the parents who sent her kid to that school because she hates her. After this fence scene, the teacher Miss Honey is undoing the girl’s pigtails to help preserve her safety. And on a later day, Miss Honey is AGAIN undoing the same girl’s pigtails, which means this poor girl after getting thrown over the fence over the pigtails, is still being sent to the school with the same damn hairdo! Maybe she thinks if her mommy thinks the pigtails are sweet enough, she’ll stop hating her and send her to a real damn school, so she’ll risk life and limb keeping the goddamn hair that enrages Trunchbull. And it’s worth noting that all these kids who have parents who clearly really fucking hate them and are sent to a school where they are horribly abused all seem to be, well, pretty normal nice kids.

That’s where Miss Honey comes in. We find that despite the over the top oppressive atmosphere in this school, she maintains a bright happy friendly classroom (which she covers up whenever Trunchbull approaches) and treats her students wonderfully. It’s wondered why she’d choose to teach at such an oppressive school until we later learn she’s Trunchbull’s stepniece, and that she can’t bring herself to leave behind her students for Trunchbull to abuse, that she wants her class to be the kids’ respite from the oppressive principal and the batshit crazy negligent parents all those kids obviously have if they were sent there to begin with. In a way, she’s like an ultrasaccharine version of Galen. The night after first meeting Matilda, she goes and visits her house and tell her parents how awesome she is, only for the parents to of course not care. She and Matilda are like best friends from here on out. Though I wonder how often Miss Honey makes a point to visit her students’ families like this, especially knowing full well these families are full of assholes who sent their elementary school age kids to a place like that.

Much of Matilda’s actions throughout the movie was from when her dad said that when a person does something wrong they must be punished. The narrator even makes a point that he said “a person” rather than “a child”. So she pulls some pranks on her parents for being dickholes. She later resolves to get even with Trunchbull for how she’s treating the kids. Oh, and later it’s found out she has telekinetic powers. Though, interestingly enough, much of what she does and what happens with her is aside from that.

Matilda stands up and supports Bruce when he’s forced to eat that gigantic chocolate cake, giving him confidence to do it as if a fun challenge rather than a vomit-inducing punishment, in defiance of Trunchbull. She and Miss Honey break into Trunchbull’s house to steal back the teacher’s old doll, only to be nearly caught and killed because Trunchbull is fucking crazy. Seriously, she throws kids over fences and out windows and puts them into a narrow pipe full of rusty spikes and has a dart board in her office with pictures of the kids on it and openly talks about how much she despises children (despite having obviously of her own free will chosen the teaching profession). And likely murdered Miss Honey’s father.

Then Matilda realizes she’s got the telekinesis and promptly uses these abilities to fuck with Trunchbull. After this six-year-old girl just waltzes out of the house after dark, and her parents don’t notice or care, but her brother asks where she’s going, only to then fling a carrot at her (which she stops in midair with her Jedi magic and sends it right back at him), she wanders over to the Trunchbull house when it’s all horribly windy and steals back the doll and, all from outside through the window somehow, fucks with Trunchbull’s mantle clock and moves her furniture and burns her painting in the fireplace and replaces it with that of Miss Honey’s dad. Trunchbull knows it’s Matilda because she happened to find her lost hair ribbon outside and threatens her the next day, only for Matilda to remotely write on the chalkboard pretending to be Miss Honey’s dad, and Trunchbull loses her shit even more until all the kids finally are empowered to stand up to her and they hurl their lunches at her and chase her off the school grounds and she’s never seen again, and Miss Honey takes over school and house. Yay!

Then at the end when Matilda is visiting Miss Honey her parents show up to take her away because they’re running from the cops, and Matilda refuses and asks Honey to adopt her, a request granted without hesitation, and in a rather satisfying line, Matilda states she’d had the adoption papers ready ever since she was “tall enough to xerox”. Her parents think for a minute and then sign the papers and Matilda is free from their asshattery and now living happily ever after with Miss Honey who actually loves and respects her.

Interesting thing about Miss Honey is that, in real life, she’d be all kinds of demonized! Even though we obviously know she’s good, she fits so many “descriptions” of a child predator. I say “descriptions” in quotes because it’s what you hear from people who know very little about child abuse but are more interested in fearmongering about it than actually giving a crap about kids. Matilda’s parents do not like or trust her. Matilda sneaks away from her family to go see her. Matilda breaks into someone’s house with her. She’s *gasp!* friends with her student! And at the end when Matilda’s mom, after the adoption request, asks why Miss Honey would want to adopt an annoying little brat like her, and Miss Honey says “because she’s a spectacular child and I love her!” Because Miss Honey just has to be bad news if she openly defies this child’s parents (parents’ asshattery not important), invites this child to her house alone, talks to her like a human being instead of a servant or property, and gives her love and respect and *gasp!* autonomy!

And it is Matilda’s autonomy that gives her power, moreso than the telekinesis. It was her autonomy (even if a result of negligence) that allowed her to leave the house and seek the library and information. And it was respect for this autonomy, despite being only four at the time, that prevented the nearby adults and the librarian she spoke with from calling the cops or someone because this little kid was walking around all alone, despite being perfectly fine. It was her autonomy that allowed her to practice the telekinesis and then leave to go terrorize Trunchbull that night. It was her autonomy that granted her the knowledge that her family life was awful and that she should get out when she can, so she had the adoption papers ready all that time! Had she been forcefully kept inside and unable to interact with anyone else (well, moreso than she was in some ways), she would probably not only have not gotten away but wouldn’t have seen getting away as even an option.

I mean, I’m not saying four-year-olds should just be left alone to wander streets. Or, actually, depends on location I guess. And the individual four-year-old. Though the amount of autonomy and sense Matilda had and was inadvertently permitted is more than even kids eight or even twelve years old often get. And kids that old can certainly keep themselves safe fairly easily. Then again, how safe can an innocent little twelve-year-old be when out there are perhaps teachers or other adults who know them, who are much nicer than their parents and treat them with the respect they do not get at home? Only by holding kids inside against their will, treating them like crap, and not caring about any abuse their parents dish out can we be totally sure they’ll be safe.

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