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Arrietty and fate

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Aug. 1st, 2011 | 11:23 pm

One thing I found interesting about the new Studio Ghibli version of the Borrowers, Arrietty, was how the plot didn't involve wish fulfilment, plucky protagonists making everything right in a great adventure - it's very much about accepting things that you can't change and making the best of situations, and how being grown-up means doing this nobly and humanely.

This makes it very different from most children's films, where after whacky adventures and japes the parents get back together, or the school is saved from being demolished, or Facebook stops being evil. Not so in Arrietty.

The boy protagonist points out that Borrowers are a doomed species quite explicitly (and rudely) early on, only it's sort of forgiven because he himself is doomed - he has a heart condition that he's not expected to recover from, and even when at the end he says he's sure he'll get through it, you don't really believe him. He certainly can't do anything about his situation - he is sat in the house waiting to have an operation, without his parents being there, and he can't make them come. All he can do is mess about with Borrowers and when he tries that, he's destructive.

Arrietty, the young daughter Borrower, does a few things that she's been told not to, and they end up being damaging or just pointless. She goes out into the garden unbidden and is briefly seen by a human bean. She goes to talk to the boy and tries to get him to leave them alone, but fails completely at this, just making him more interested. Her stoic, taciturn father ends up deciding that they have to move before they are discovered and destroyed after she's been seen, and you know what? He's absolutely right, and he's proved right when the boy tries some disastrous home alteration on their house, and then the housekeeper finds them because of this and tries to have them all gassed.

The protagonists manage to foil this, but that's all they can do - make the best of a bad situation. The Borrower family have to move, and there's no last-minute change of heart so they can live in the dollhouse that the boy's grandfather built for Borrowers - they float away to an uncertain future. There's a farewell scene where the boy and Arrietty say goodbye but don't try to hold on to each other, which is a sign that they have both grown up and learnt to accept that sometimes you can't change things.

It's not often you see a modern children's film which is about how it's important to grow up, and that childishly failing to appreciate that (a) some things have to be dealt with (b) there are often reasons why people do things in certain ways, and (c) you just can't fight everything and expect to win, is bad and might mean you all die. These are not popular themes in films for adults either.
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