Things Are Clearer When You Aren't Seven

by Mar Colborn

When I was seven, my brother threatened to break my copy of Matilda (1996) so he wouldn’t have to watch it anymore. According to seven-year-old me, this was an outrage, a scandal, a sheer impossibility that someone wouldn’t understand the cinematic genius of my favorite movie.

I am an impossibility to my seven-year-old self. I can fully acknowledge that Matilda is far from a masterpiece. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it. It’s going to be among my favorite movies until the end of time, but objectively, it isn’t good. But I think every little girl who ever read or watched Matilda tried, even if only once, to move something with her mind.

Leaving behind childhood media doesn’t happen all at once, I’ve found, and of course, it doesn’t always fully stick. Still, there’s something very different about the way I enjoy Matilda now. Demands on my time aside, I simply don’t go back to it in the way I did when I was a wide-eyed seven-year-old who saw too much of herself in a little girl in an impossible situation.

There isn’t any one moment, no shocking turning point where my brother actually breaks the DVD. I don’t even really remember how I lost that last copy of the DVD — maybe left behind in a house while moving or given away to a thrift store while I wasn’t looking, but eventually I was able to look at my small DVD collection and not find Matilda among them. So, a few years ago I broke down and bought a digital copy, so desperately homesick for the feeling of becoming lost in Matilda’s story.

Matilda and I still have our parallels — I remember the same sense of wonder that she felt on her first day of school. I see elements of Miss Honey in every one of my favorite teachers, and most importantly, I saw a clever little girl learn to make her own home in the midst of everything that was happening to her. I see Miss Honey in myself, too. More and more as I get older, as I get further away from Matilda. In the way I learned that becoming an adult doesn’t have to rob you of your childhood favorites, and it doesn’t have to turn you into a mean-spirited person, no matter what happens.

Even the less pleasant parts of the movie have their places in my memory, like the image of Mr. Wormwood that I (usually unfairly) plaster over the face of every used car salesman I interact with.

I see the story in moments where I’ve found or made a home away from the ones I’ve always known. I find it in dusty corners on visits to new libraries, and every time I find myself lost in a book.

Whether it’s a worn-out DVD perpetually kept in the player, or a file hidden in a folder of purchased movies on a little-accessed corner of a computer, Matilda will always have a place in my life.