"Marred by Magical Thinking and Ghosts"
What You Need To Know:
Sadly, the new SECRET GARDEN movie adopts the original novel’s belief in the power of magical thinking. It is magical thinking that helps Colin be able to walk again, coupled with the exercise he gets from playing in the secret garden and swimming in the pond there. The filmmakers add a new subplot where the ghosts of Mary’s mother and Colin’s mother help Mary in the climax. This mystical, occult content in THE SECRET GARDEN (2020) hurts the discriminating viewer’s enjoyment of the story.
THE SECRET GARDEN (2020) is another version of the popular children’s novel about an orphaned English girl who goes to live on her uncle’s vast estate near the moors, where she gets involved with helping her uncle and his invalid son overcome the sad death of the boy’s mother. THE SECRET GARDEN has some redemptive, uplifting moments in it, but its quality and acceptability are marred by mystical magical thinking and occult content featuring ghosts.
The movie opens in India, where young Mary Lennox is left alone in her house when her parents disappear during the partition crisis with Pakistan in 1947. A British soldier finally arrives to rescue her, and she learns that her parents have died at the hospital in the midst of a cholera epidemic.
Mary’s uncle, Archibald Craven, agrees to shelter her, but his housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock, gives strict instructions to Mary not to disturb Lord Craven. She also orders Mary not to go exploring around the large mansion. So, Mary starts playing and exploring the estate grounds. Though spoiled, sullen and She makes friends with a shaggy dog. She can’t tell the dog’s sex, so she gives it the female name of Jemima.
Following the dog one day, she discovers a wild walled in garden with a pond and a brook. A robin red breast is friendly with Mary. The bird enters a hole in a garden statue covered with vines. In the hole, Mary finds a strange large key.
Each night in the old mansion, Mary hears someone crying. She follows the sound to a room, where she finds a boy her age lying in bed. The boy’s name is Colin, and he happens to be the invalid son of Lord Craven. Colin’s just as sullen and sarcastic as Mary is, but they manage to begin a tentative friendship. Mary learns that Colin’s mother died shortly after he was born, and his father doesn’t spend any time with him because of the bad memories associated with the mother’s death.
One day the dog accidentally gets its leg stuck in a trap. Mary does what she can, but it isn’t until the next day that she gets help from her maid, Martha’s, younger brother, Dickon. They find the dog, and Dickon asks if she know if there’s some water nearby. Mary shows Dickon the walled in garden and the pond, and Dickon manages to clean and bind the dog’s leg. He tells her tomorrow will tell them if the bandage is helping the dog, who happens to be a wild male dog whose owner died.
When the dog’s leg is better the next day, Mary decides that Colin needs to get outside and experience the joys of the secret garden. Her decision is supported when she learns that the garden was actually created by Lord Craven’s late wife. It was her favorite place, and Mary finds a photo of Lady Craven in her last days sitting with Mary’s mother, who was Lady Craven’s twin, and their two children, Colin and Mary.
Can Mary and Dickon sneak Colin out of the mansion to visit the garden? Will Colin get better?
THE SECRET GARDEN is based on the popular 1911 children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, who also wrote LITTLE LORD FAUNTELROY and A LITTLE PRINCESS. Multiple movies have been made of the novel, the first talkie being a 1949 picture starring Margaret O’Brien and Dean Stockwell, two of Hollywood’s best child actors.
The original book’s theme is the rejuvenation of a family, focusing on the personalities of Mary, Colin and Colin’s father. A subplot shows that if people neglect a garden or neglect another, the garden or person will wither and die, but if people care for the garden and other people, they will thrive. However, in the book, the children and the estate’s gardener attribute the power of the garden to rejuvenate Mary and Colin to Magic with a capital “M.” Mary even calls the power “white” magic as opposed to black magic. Colin is so impressed with this magical power that he decides to make a “scientific” study of magic his lifelong vocation. In one passage, the gardener talks to them about going to church. He teaches them the doxology hymn honoring the Holy Trinity, which begins, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Colin and Mary’s friend, Dickon, sings the song, and the children are so impressed that they sing a second time, all together. Singing the song makes the gardener cry and makes Colin feel joyful. At that moment, Dickon’s mother, Susan, shows up. Susan has been feeding the children hearty meals while they worked and played in the secret garden. Colin asks her if she believes in Magic, she says she does, but not by that name, She calls it “The Big Good Thing.” Then, when Colin says he felt joyful while singing the Holy Trinity doxology, she says it wasn’t the words that mattered but the joy he felt as he sung. She adds that names are not the thing that matters, saying, “What’s names to th’ Joy Maker?” Despite Susan’s reference to a “Joy Maker,” the rest of the book makes clear that it’s the “Magic” in the secret garden that rejuvenates Mary, Colin and Colin’s father. Part of this Magic is the power that comes from the natural world of plants and animals, but part of it also comes from the magical power of positive thinking.
Here, it’s important to note that, according to her biographies, Frances Hodgson Burnett grew dissatisfied with the Church of England when her elder son died of tuberculosis in 1890. Because of his death, she became a Christian Scientist and embraced Spiritualism, two heretical Non-Christian cults. Thus, it is Burnett’s false Christian Science beliefs that guide the messages in THE SECRET GARDEN discussed above. She also became an avid gardener before she wrote the book, which promotes the power of nature to grow things.
Sadly, the new SECRET GARDEN movie, though it doesn’t use the term “Magic,” adopts the novel’s concept of the power of magical thinking. It is magical thinking that helps Colin be able to walk again, coupled with the exercise he gets from playing in the secret garden and swimming in the pond there. The filmmakers add another dreadful element to the story. In the movie, Mary has a vivid imagination and sometimes imagines things that are not there. Toward the end of the movie, however, her mother’s and Colin’s mother’s ghosts guide Colin’s father and Mary out of a raging fire. At the climactic moment, her mother’s ghost lovingly places a hand on Mary’s cheek just before Mary totally escapes the fire.
Ultimately, therefore, this SECRET GARDEN has some redemptive, uplifting moments in it, but it’s marred by mystical magical thinking and occult content featuring ghosts. This negative content hurts the discriminating viewer’s enjoyment of the story. There are also some scary moments that might scare younger children. Media-wise families will want to skip THE SECRET GARDEN.
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