A heartwarming tale of child abuse and magical powers, this 1996 film is based on the Roald Dahl novel of the same name, published in 1988.
This is Matilda:
Matilda is a young girl who is constantly belittled and yelled at by her family for being smart.
When Matilda turns six, she tells her parents that she wants to go to school, despite her mother’s insistence that girls don’t need education.
Her parents ignore her for a while and in retaliation, Matilda begins to get revenge on them by doing things like putting hydrogen peroxide in her father’s shampoo or gluing his hat to his head. One night, Matilda’s father is offended that his daughter is reading a book instead of watching TV with the rest of the family.
He destroys the book and Matilda gets so angry that the TV explodes, leading her to the realization that her brain power is so tremendous that she can move things with her mind.
Eventually, Matilda’s parents send her to school because it’s the law and off she goes to Crunchem Hall. Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey, is a lovely, soft-spoken woman who loves children and teaching. However, Miss Honey is also the unfortunate niece of the fascist dictator who runs the school, Miss Agatha Trunchbull.
Miss Trunchbull keeps the entire school in a perpetual state of fear and routinely abuses children by throwing them over the schoolyard fences by their hair, force feeding them, picking them up by their ears, and locking them in a closet called “The Chokey.”
Miss Honey takes an interest in Matilda and one afternoon, invites her over to her cottage for tea. During this little get together, Miss Honey tells Matilda about her childhood. After Miss Honey’s mother died, her father invited his stepsister-in-law, Miss Trunchbull, to live with them. Miss Trunchbull abused Miss Honey and murdered her father, making it appear to be a suicide because this movie is actually really freaking dark and awful.
After learning from Miss Honey that Miss Trunchbull is superstitious and terrified of ghosts, Matilda attempts to use her telekinetic powers to scare Miss Trunchbull out of the family mansion she stole from Miss Honey. Her plan nearly works until Miss Trunchbull finds Matilda’s hair ribbon. The next day, Miss Trunchbull goes to Miss Honey’s class in an attempt to catch her culprit but instead, Matilda uses her powers to write a message on the chalkboard to Miss Trunchbull, pretending to be Miss Honey’s dead father.
Terrified that a ghost is going to kill her, Miss Trunchbull runs away, never to be heard from again. Miss Honey takes possession of her former home and she and Matilda often have tea together in the afternoons. One day, Matilda’s parents show up at Miss Honey’s house to pick up Matilda. Her father is going to be prosecuted by the FBI for illegal shenanigans at his used car dealership so the whole family is fleeing to Guam. When Matilda refuses to go, Miss Honey offers to adopt her. Matilda produces adoption papers from her backpack and informs her parents that she’s had them ever since she learned how to use the xerox machine at the library when she was four. Her mother briefly laments not knowing her daughter better but neither has any issue with signing over their daughter to a relative stranger.
Matilda’s old family leaves and she has a happily ever after life with Miss Honey, who becomes the new principal of Crunchem Hall.
As I think about the ending of this story, I’m reminded of a quote from Neil Gaiman: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”