Arrietty and Keeping Our Failures a Secret Jun18

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Arrietty and Keeping Our Failures a Secret

Screenshot from The Secret World of Arrietty.
Children’s movies often tout the dangers of secrets. Many a story surrounds a protagonist keeping a secret from friends, guardians, or other adults with lie after lie throughout almost the entirety of the films. George lies to his parents about Stuart leaving on a dangerous journey in Stuart Little 2; Mr. Incredible lies to his wife so he can moonlight hero work in The Incredibles; Miguel lies to his deceased family so he can break his curse in Coco. In the end, after a barrage of damage dealt to relationships or the characters themselves, the secret always comes out. On the other hand, The Secret World of Arrietty, a Japanese animated film, also has a plot surrounding a secret; but instead of lying, right away this little person takes responsibility for her actions.

One of the biggest lies I’ve used repeatedly is two words: “I’m fine.”

This film is Hayao Miyazaki’s interpretation of The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Fourteen-year-old Arrietty is a girl only a few inches tall, called a borrower, who lives with her mother and father under the floorboards of a house in Japan. While thoughtlessly running in the garden one day, she’s seen by a “human bean,” but she hides this secret from her parents. Their presence being known jeopardizes the safety of her family. As opposed to dragging this secret out for the rest of the film, not far into the story, Arrietty admits to Papa and Mama that she was seen while being careless.

Arrietty could have lied to make it easier on herself. Taking responsibility for a secret that’s hurt others can be a humbling process because admitting you’re wrong takes guts. If I admit I’ve done something wrong, then there are all these horrible feelings of guilt and shame that follow. If I just cover something up, if I keep it a secret, people will forget about it—right? Sometimes that has worked for me, I’ll admit, but other times, secret-keeping can lead to a chain reaction of hurt.

A lie I’ve used repeatedly is two words: “I’m fine.” When I went through my parents’ divorce, I lied to so many people with that phrase because I didn’t want to make a big deal about the turmoil inside me. That ended up just hurting more people as I shut down or lashed out when my feelings boiled over. It wasn’t until I admitted to others what was really going on that I was able to mend relationships and heal.

After acknowledging the damage her secret has done, Arrietty proceeds to assess the problem and confront it head on with courage and humility instead of digging herself into a deeper hole with more deception, and I admire her for it. She speaks to Sean, the human who saw her, directly about what she’s done to try to dissuade him from continuing interactions with her. She takes closer care to the warnings her parents have given her.

In the end, her actions do have consequences: the shrewd housekeeper named Hara discovers her home and Arrietty is forced to find a new place to live with her family. She ends up making friends with Sean, though they must separate. But during this journey, Arrietty learns the value of honesty and responsibility.

Taking responsibility for a secret that’s hurt others can be a humbling process.

Even as an adult, sometimes I’m more afraid of the consequences of my actions than taking responsibility for them, but I often find that keeping a dangerous secret can rot me from the inside out. I can hide my feelings for a while, but eventually my discomfort becomes noticeable and it affects other parts of my life. But in the end, I think the reason I keep these secrets is because I don’t like people to see that I’ve failed at something.

I want to please people and for others to see me as a good person, though I sometimes interpret “good” to mean “perfect.” I don’t want other people to see me as a flawed person and I believe Arrietty felt the same way. She’s taken pride in being responsible, grown up, and a gem to her parents; it hurt her inside to see them so disappointed by what she did. I hate disappointing people too. But if I keep in mind I’m not perfect, I never will be, and most people don’t expect me to be, it’s a little easier to admit when I’m going through a rough patch.

Though the title of the movie references Arrietty’s secret world, the story really surrounds a different secret—the one she was brave enough to admit to her parents—and doing so changed her life, just as admitting when I’m struggling has done for me.

Victoria Grace Howell

Victoria Grace Howell

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Victoria Grace Howell is an award-winning writer of speculative fiction and an editor for Geeks Under Grace. When not typing away at her novels, she enjoys drawing her characters, blogging, Kung Fu, cosplaying, and a really good hot cup of tea.
Victoria Grace Howell

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