What does the Secret of NIMH mean?

edited June 2013 in Main

Nostalgia Critic tackles the themes of the Secret of NIMH: http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/39603-nostalgia-critic-what-does-the-secret-of-nimh-mean

I like a lot of the points he raises, but I kinda view his stance on the Stone as a cop-out. The way I see it, yes, it can represent "the unknown", and it's interesting to think about it that way, but the Stone isn't necessary to evoke the unknown. There are already plenty of mysteries in NIMH, and they are generally mysteries that I find more interesting (like how do the Rats make their way in the world from here, what sort of lasting consequences are there for them, etc.). There is already a sense that the Rats must confront unknowns all the time due to their very nature.

I would have less of an issue with the Stone if some of these mysteries surrounding it were even acknowledged, but aside from Nicodemus's brief explanation of the source of it's power ("courage of the heart"), absolutely none of them are addressed in even a perfunctory way. We're just supposed to assume that of course the Rats have magical abilities. Why wouldn't they? It's weak storytelling for the sake of visual interest.

Comments

  • We're just supposed to assume that of course the Rats have magical abilities. Why wouldn't they? It's weak storytelling for the sake of visual interest.>

    I disagree. I think that only Nicodemus had "magical abilities" as the workings of the rest of the colony are technological and that the rest of the rats show no signs of any supernatural abilities.. My theory is that he was able to tap into something that is beyond understanding. That, unlike the other rats, he further explored his own altered genetics and he was able to lock something.

  • edited June 2013

    Huh. This is actually a good place to have a discussion about the stone. I planned to do something about it awhile back, but laziness and the like. But anyway, there are a lot of interpretations on the stone so I'm going to examine what I have in front of me and come up with a conclusion.

    "The Unknown" I feel is pretty a pretty vague explanation for the interpretation of the stone. Obviously the nature of the stone itself is unknown. Unknown origins, unknown purpose, unknown power, etc. To say it represents something along the lines of metaphysics I feel is overzealous. I certainly don't believe it represents what nature and science can't answer. It's a trinket that gives the user great power. That's all we really know about it. I can see where he gets the idea: the movie deals with themes of nature and science and both are needed to succeed. I can get on that boat. There's also the question of what happens after we die and why are we here among other things that science and nature can't quite answer. There could be powers at work out there that mankind can't understand, but because the rats are products of both science and nature, they can get a grasp on them. So I understand his interpretation and say that it's a decent argument for the stone's appearance, albeit one I don't really agree with.

    There's also the director's interpretation of the stone: that it's a metaphor for Mrs. Brisby's inner courage. It allows the movie to show us that she has courage without actually showing us that she has courage. She has the will to save her children, the courage and desire to do anything possible to save her son and family; she just needs the power, which the stone provides. This can be interpreted as lazy storytelling, and I would definitely see where you would come from. However, Superman, for example, has both the will and the power to do good. When he's in a situation that weakens his power, all he has is his will. When he's in a situation of great power, he has to question his will. What I'm trying to get at is with the balance of great power and unselfish desires, the powerless can become powerful. And I feel that to the film's credit, it does show it. It shows us when a character has the balance of both great will and great power, making Mrs. Brisby's character arc complete and satisfying.

    There's also the elephant in the room that it is pretty much a deus ex machina that is used to show off pretty animation and that can't be ignored. But as the Critic Man said, the film's charm is the fact that it can be interpreted in many different ways. Take it as you will.

  • ChrisS said:

    We're just supposed to assume that of course the Rats have magical abilities. Why wouldn't they? It's weak storytelling for the sake of visual interest.>

    I disagree. I think that only Nicodemus had "magical abilities" as the workings of the rest of the colony are technological and that the rest of the rats show no signs of any supernatural abilities.. My theory is that he was able to tap into something that is beyond understanding. That, unlike the other rats, he further explored his own altered genetics and he was able to lock something.

    That could very well be the case, but again, my point isn't that there couldn't be an explanation for it. My point is nobody thought it deserved an explanation. Why does Nicodemus have magical powers? The movie doesn't tell you, and what's more, it doesn't even seem to think that it's a question the audience might have, otherwise I feel like someone would've commented on it. I don't necessarily mind a mystery, and if they didn't make it central to the plot, I probably wouldn't care as much. But they did make it central to the plot; without the magic, there would've been a very different ending to the movie, and it would've been a tragedy. With the magic of the stone, also pronounced deus ex machina, the day is saved and we have a happy ending. I don't feel it's wrong to demand a bit more; otherwise we could use much the same excuse to gloss over any other unexplained plot point.

    So yes, there could be a completely valid and acceptable reason for the Stone to exist in the story. It's just that it didn't seem like the writers cared whether there was one or not. Taken in context with the source material (which didn't need magic and was still very effective at telling its story) it just feels lazy.

  • edited June 2013

    ThePuppetMaster said: However, Superman, for example, has both the will and the power to do good. When he's in a situation that weakens his power, all he has is his will. When he's in a situation of great power, he has to question his will. What I'm trying to get at is with the balance of great power and unselfish desires, the powerless can become powerful. And I feel that to the film's credit, it does show it. It shows us when a character has the balance of both great will and great power, making Mrs. Brisby's character arc complete and satisfying.

    I like this interpretation of the Stone; it doesn't fix the problem of the actual mechanics, and I still feel the story would be stronger if that was touched on or at least acknowledged, but I can get behind the more thematic idea of balancing power and selfish/selfless desires. Even in the movie, I'd agree that Mrs. Brisby's arc is a satisfying one, though I do prefer her arc in the book.

    Your comparison to Superman is interesting; I feel it tips the scales way too far in the other direction. You know pretty much all of the details about Superman's origin and powers, where they come from, what they're weak to, etc., and it sucks a lot of the interest I might otherwise have of the character right out. There's no mystery to the character, no guessing what he might do next, no real surprises. The interesting party in his interactions tends to be the villain. So you can go too far in the other direction.

    At some point I ought to compare/contrast the Stone with the Force from Star Wars, as I feel that would get some of the points I'm trying to make across better, but I don't have time to get into that right now. n.n;

  • edited June 2013

    I like this interpretation of the Stone; it doesn't fix the problem of the actual mechanics, and I still feel the story would be stronger if that was touched on or at least acknowledged, but I can get behind the more thematic idea of balancing power and selfish/selfless desires. Even in the movie, I'd agree that Mrs. Brisby's arc is a satisfying one, though I do prefer her arc in the book.>

    Actually I take the film over the book in a lot of areas particularly the third act. I think that Bluth & Co. did a good job building up Mrs. Brisby's character. And its not like in other films/stories where the character goes through a complete change but its a gradual one. In particular I'll point out the scene where Mrs. Brisby is stuck in the bird cage. Upon hearing of NIMH's arrival the next morning she resolves to warn the rats and figures out a way to get out of her cage and onto the floor. It shows the courage of the character that she is willing to do something she normally wouldn't do to help others and her loved ones.

    Mrs. Frisby on the other hand doesn't attempt to escape from the cage and has to be rescued by Justin. It is only the next day does she tell the rats about NIMH's planned visit.

    It's just that it didn't seem like the writers cared whether there was one or not. Taken in context with the source material (which didn't need magic and was still very effective at telling its story) it just feels lazy.>

    I don't think Bluth & company cared much about the background of the stone but more what it could do for the character. Bluth doesn't completely explain the origins of it and admits that the stone is a mystery but he explains his reasons for using it. He wanted Mrs. Brisby to solve her own problem rather then going around screaming her head off begging for help and then the problem being simply solved without her involvement. True that she did have to brave obstacles getting to that to the point where she meets the rats (Dragon, the Great Owl, Dragon again) but compare the book to the film. In the film: Saving Jeremy from Dragon, trying to stop the tractor, facing the Great Owl, escaping from Brutus, drugging Dragon, escaping from the birdcage, nearly killed by Jenner, nearly drowned trying to save her children.

    What does Mrs. Frisby go through: saving Jeremy from Dragon, facing the Great Owl, drugging Dragon.

    In the film Mrs. Brisby and her plight is the main focus and the stuff involving the rats is the subplot. In the book I feel there was a greater concentration on the rats themselves and their background rather than Mrs. Frisby.

  • edited June 2013

    ChrisS said: Actually I take the film over the book in a lot of areas particularly the third act. I think that Bluth & Co. did a good job building up Mrs. Brisby's character. And its not like in other films/stories where the character goes through a complete change but its a gradual one. In particular I'll point out the scene where Mrs. Brisby is stuck in the bird cage. Upon hearing of NIMH's arrival the next morning she resolves to warn the rats and figures out a way to get out of her cage and onto the floor. It shows the courage of the character that she is willing to do something she normally wouldn't do to help others and her loved ones.

    Mrs. Frisby on the other hand doesn't attempt to escape from the cage and has to be rescued by Justin. It is only the next day does she tell the rats about NIMH's planned visit.

    That is one thing I definitely prefer about the film version over the book version, though the book did at least have her trying to get out, as I recall. The cage in the book was just set up in such a way that it was impossible for her to do anything about it. The rest of the third act is certainly more action-packed, since they keep the villain around and so forth, but I do think that the book's focus was less on Mrs. Frisby and more on the Rats, as you say. She goes through more in the movie, but I'd hesitate to describe Mrs. Frisby as any weaker of a character than Mrs. Brisby; they just threw more stuff at Mrs. Brisby than O'Brien did at Mrs. Frisby.

    I don't think Bluth & company cared much about the background of the stone but more what it could do for the character. Bluth doesn't completely explain the origins of it and admits that the stone is a mystery but he explains his reasons for using it. He wanted Mrs. Brisby to solve her own problem rather then going around screaming her head off begging for help and then the problem being simply solved without her involvement.

    That argument there bothers me more than just having the Stone exist in the first place, because it doesn't really hold up to scrutiny in my mind. Mrs. Brisby without the Stone would have been unable to save her children, and perhaps would have died with them, if all the other events in the movie played out the same way. The Stone is what enables Mrs. Brisby to "solve her own problem", and yet it's Nicodemus who gives it to her, saying "Jonathan meant it for you," as he does. So, in my mind, it's still either Jonathan or Nicodemus who solved her problem.

    I understand that it requires "courage of the heart" to function, so it's specifically Mrs. Brisby in that moment combined with the Stone that makes the fireworks happen, but in my mind the Stone is still the thing that enabled the day to be saved. What would you think if it were, say, Justin that picked up the Stone and saved everyone? I see nothing in the text of the movie that says it couldn't have happened that way; Justin was plenty courageous, I think. Or do you have to have your children on the line? Again, we don't really know. And that's why I think the Stone is a cheap way out of the plot they dug themselves into in the course of the movie.

  • edited June 2013

    Simon said: That argument there bothers me more than just having the Stone exist in the first place, because it doesn't really hold up to scrutiny in my mind. Mrs. Brisby without the Stone would have been unable to save her children, and perhaps would have died with them, if all the other events in the movie played out the same way. The Stone is what enables Mrs. Brisby to "solve her own problem", and yet it's Nicodemus who gives it to her, saying "Jonathan meant it for you," as he does. So, in my mind, it's still either Jonathan or Nicodemus who solved her problem.

    I understand that it requires "courage of the heart" to function, so it's specifically Mrs. Brisby in that moment combined with the Stone that makes the fireworks happen, but in my mind the Stone is still the thing that enabled the day to be saved. What would you think if it were, say, Justin that picked up the Stone and saved everyone? I see nothing in the text of the movie that says it couldn't have happened that way; Justin was plenty courageous, I think. Or do you have to have your children on the line? Again, we don't really know. And that's why I think the Stone is a cheap way out of the plot they dug themselves into in the course of the movie.

    I'm going to play Devil's Advocate for just a minute.

    I think you're obsessing too much about the stone's origins, or more specifically lack thereof. The film is an hour and 20 minutes long, would you honestly think that it's worth ruining the pacing to explain the origins? Even if the stone didn't originally belong to her, she still used it and knew that it could save her children even after it burned her hands. The stone chose her to save the day, not Justin or anyone else. It flew over to her because she had the desire to use in unselfishly and for good, she just needed the strength to save the day. She fainted after using it, it must've required some level of strength from her. She could've easily drawn herself away from it, but she didn't. And I don't see the problem with characters accepting help or advice from other characters, especially when it's through their actions, however small, that allow them to succeed. Say I teach you how to fish and help you with the bait and all that, and say you catch a big bass. Would you be pissed if I took responsibility for it? I would if I were in your shoes.

    Now I'm going to give you a challenge. You have to have all the events of the movie play out and still have the heroine save her family. You have no magical stone, Nicodemus is dead, and Justin can't do anything to save the family drowning in mud. It's hard isn't it? You may think: well does she really need to save the day? Well if the movie made an effort to focus on her, which it did, I'd say the climax has to somehow include her in someway, shape, or form. Sometimes the cheapest way is the most effective. And the stone, however cheap in your eyes it might be, was at least effective in what it did. Was it really lazy storytelling? I can't really convince you otherwise. They killed two birds with one stone by showing us that she had courage of the heart and being able to save the day. Is coming up with that really lazy storytelling when you're able to accomplish that? Even if it is deus ex machina? Can deus ex machina be used creatively? Questions...questions...

    At some point I ought to compare/contrast the Stone with the Force from Star Wars, as I feel that would get some of the points I'm trying to make across better, but I don't have time to get into that right now. n.n;

    Since I'm tired and bored, I guess I could try naming a few compare/contrasts...

    1. Both origins are unknown
    2. The force has to be mastered, while the stone apparently doesn't. However, the stone does require strength and courage to use, while the force just requires training.
    3. They both could be used for good or evil apparently...As Nicodemus stresses that if Jenner gets a hold of it it would be a bad thing.
    4. The force in Star Wars isn't really used for deus ex machina, in fact it could be considered a threat at some points. So, yes, you got that...However, as mentioned, I question as to whether or not it's really lazy storytelling.
    5. They both bring a fantasy aspect into a sci fi world. While the book was completely sci-fi, which may have been more your flavor, I admire stories that integrate genres. You can argue that it wasn't seamless. But I would argue that in an animated film with so much artistic license, it doesn't seem out of place to expect some sort of magical element at play. Whether it's inclusion was forced, or delivered well is really up to the viewer.
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