The Thing I Like About …

Matilda: she loves her parents.

Matilda is a very bright girl with a strong moral character, whose parents are … um … very different from her. They do not have moral characters. They are not concerned with their fellow man. They are more concerned that their children reflect their life choices than they are with providing a nurturing environment for said children. What intellect they have is spent in shallow pursuits and nefarious activities that, if they aren’t careful, are going to get them in trouble with the police.

Matilda does not like spending time with her parents. She doesn’t have anything in common with them. They’re threatened by her intelligence and by her scholarly interests. They are neglectful, and arbitrary, and have a tendency toward violent outbursts. Matilda works very hard through the whole film to find a way to be anywhere but home, because she doesn’t like “home” and she doesn’t like her parents.

But she doesn’t hate them either.

She tries to arrange things so that her father doesn’t get arrested for the stupid things he does. She tries to explain to him the difference between right and wrong, so that he can avoid the pitfalls of his own behaviour. When she finally makes a move to leave her parents behind, it’s with no rancour whatsoever.

It is her parents’ fault for creating such a wretched environment, and for being such wretched parents. But Matilda figures out – from a very early age – the thing that so many of us spend our whole lives trying to learn: you can dislike an environment, or an event, or a person, but you don’t have to hate people to separate from them. You don’t have to punish them for being less than you needed. You don’t have to dishonour the things they did that were good, or for which you are grateful (for giving you life, for instance). You don’t even have to be angry. You can just walk away to something new.

Depending on the situation and the people involved, you might try your darnedest to help them see a different path … but if they don’t get it, or don’t want it, or don’t hear you, that’s okay. You don’t have to feel discouraged, or like a failure. And you don’t have to stick around.

Matilda figures out that loving your parents doesn’t make them good for you. She figures out that “goodness” isn’t measured by how much bad stuff we put up with. And she figures out that, at the end of the day, no one is hurt by her moving toward a happier life.

In fact, everybody wins.

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