Clichés can carry so much truth, yet we find ourselves tuning these messages out because they are so overused. We know the sayings, but we don’t take them to heart. Movies with these messages target children because their minds are more malleable and easily impressionable; children will learn these lessons without the biases that come with life experience. In the movie Matilda, one cliché preaches “you can do anything if you set your mind to it.” With perseverance, Matilda trains herself to use her powers for noble purposes, yet even an innocent concept like this can send a mixed message.
One major premise of Matilda is overcoming adversity. Matilda was born into a family that does not accept her and who constantly discredits her intelligence and abilities. Her father taught her at an early age that people, not just children, need to be punished. Her passion for justice empowers her to develop her gift through a series of pranks. Throughout the entire movie, Matilda’s practice and cultivation of her powers serves as an illustration that “anything is possible if you set your mind to it.” In one specific example when Matilda tries to convince Ms. Honey of her powers, Ms. Honey replies, “It’s great that you feel so powerful, some people don’t feel powerful at all… You should believe in whatever power you think you have inside of you, believe it with all your heart” (Matilda film). This quote by Ms. Honey encourages the belief that you can achieve anything if you have the right mindset. Ms. Honey is the only major adult character in the movie that is noble and just, greatly amplifying her ethos and likeability. The audience grows to love Ms. Honey because she is the embodiment of wisdom, love, and encouragement in a bleak adult world. Louis Giannetti highlights this principle in his book Understanding Movies when he states that an actor’s appeal greatly helps win the audience over (406). By having Ms. Honey overtly introduce the idea of “believing in yourself”, she exemplifies this concept. On a similar note, Andrea Lunsford and John Ruszkiewicz state in their book Everything’s an Argument that an appeal to pathos is strong and that by manipulating the audience to identify with an experience, you can build an emotional tie (52). Hearing this cliché uttered by a stranger wouldn’t penetrate our hearts enough to make us truly hear; however, by having two well-liked characters in the movie discuss this issue, the audience responds positively because of their emotional attachment. The writers purposefully use ethos and pathos to connect the audience with the cliché, allowing us to truly digest and accept the argument.
Although the cliché is meant to be moving, it also sends a problematic message. Confidence in your ability to reach a goal is an integral part of achievement; however, there comes a point where reality needs to set in. While Ms. Honey presents an inspiring, heart-warming idea, the concept can be totally impractical. Of course children cannot explode television sets or pick up children with their minds! If a child believed with all his heart that he was a superhero, he still would not be able to fly. Yet a logical appeal is made when we see that Matilda repeatedly succeeds in using her powers. A logical argument consists of two parts: a statement and proof (Lunsford 82). In this case, the statement is the cliché “if you believe in yourself, anything is possible” and the proof is the many instances in which Matilda focuses and is able to move objects. Although it seems unrealistic to adults that people can use their minds to move objects, a child with an imagination may not see this claim as folly and will accept the argument.
Children’s imaginations are so vast and their minds are so naïve that they actually do believe in a magical world that escapes our adult perceptions of reality. I believe that the movie has good intentions in presenting the concept that confidence in yourself is the key to attaining a goal, but some things are truly impossible for man. Although I love that the story is a lighthearted, magical adventure, I feel that it sends a message to kids that they could have powers too. Although the cliché has faults, the writers did a great job of connecting the audience to the cliché.