What Does The Secret of NIMH Mean?
June 18, 2013
(The shortened opening)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic, I remember it so you don't have to. Well, you've heard me go on and on about The Secret of NIMH...
(Cut to footage of The Secret of NIMH)
NC (vo): ...praising it as one of my favorite movies. And many would agree that it is a good flick: good characters, good story, good animation, more than enough material for both kids and adults; it's an awesome piece of awesome awesomeness. And while, in my other videos, I've talked about the strength of all those elements, this time, I wish to focus on something different: the themes of the story.
NC: Because one question that keeps popping from people who have seen the movie is, what the hell does it mean?
NC (vo): Most of the story is pretty straightforward. But then it takes a turn that seems to split people right down the middle: that being the absence of clarifying what the Stone is and why it has supernatural powers. Some say its vagueness projects the film into being a classic. Others say it's a deus-ex-machina that forces unneeded Disney magic into an otherwise good film.
NC: Wars have been started...
(Cut to a montage of images of wars throughout history)
NC (vo): ...brother is turned against brother; it's torn this world apart.
NC: (confidently) And yes, I have a theory as well about what the message is, and ideas what this movie can possibly be about.
NC (vo): It probably goes without saying, but this is gonna be very heavy on the spoilers. So if you haven't seen the movie, you probably should before going any further.
NC: Or, the shorter way of putting it... (points to his right; the viewer's left)
(Cut to Chester A. Bum standing there.)
NC: With that said, let's dive right in and take a look.
NC (vo): At its core, I think the essential story is about science vs. nature. Some might say that's pretty obvious and even a little too simplistic, but hear me out. The rats of NIMH started out as any ordinary rats until they were experimented on and became genetically altered, making them more intelligent than any other animal outside of man.
Nicodemus: I looked upon the words under the cage door ["To Open Door, Lift Latch"], and understood them! We had become... intelligent.
NC (vo): Once they escape, their goal is to keep feeding their intelligence and continue to grow, making discovery after discovery and becoming more and more aware that knowledge is power. But they realize the more powerful they become, the more they have responsibility to that power. And all the rats know that a major change is on the horizon, one that will define who they are and where their power is going to lead them. As the movie begins, we see the rats are stealing electricity from the farmer's house, conducting their own experiments and learning how to grow. The rats believe that they might now be smart enough to create their own resources, and on top of that, morality starts to creep into their consciousness.
Nicodemus: ...to live without stealing, of course.
Justin: It's wrong to take electricity from the farmer.
NC (vo): Many now think it is wrong to steal the electricity, and if a colony growing in intelligence and power is going to survive, they need a strong, moral center, and this is a perfect place to start. This is where the focus of many of the arguments in the movie begin. Some think it's a good idea to move away and harness their own energy; others, like a rat named Jenner, see no reason to leave when everything they need is at their fingertips.
Jenner: The Thorn Valley plan is the aspiration of idiots and dreamers!
NC (vo): Jenner could be seen as a one-note villain for this, except for the fact that many...
(Cut to a montage of paintings of tyrannical empires throughout history.)
NC (vo): ...growing empires have displayed these characteristics countless times in the past.
(Cut to a montage of footage of Jenner.)
NC (vo): He represents the fear of change and the resistance of ethical responsibility, the need to keep their world of comfort and power at any cost. And we see in great detail that he will go to any cost, killing their leader, fighting anyone who gets in his way, and attempting to gain even more power to cement his status.
(Cut to clips of the science vs. nature notion of this film.)
NC (vo): So the science in this science vs. nature story is obviously the experiments conducted on the rats and the experiments they conduct to grow themselves as a result of it. The nature is the choices they make with it, discovering what is best for survival and creating a world for them to evolve in; a world of peace and security that they know comes from morally responsible choices.
(Cut to a montage of the following images: a session of Congress, a globe with various screens on it, a whole crowd of people, and the earth covered in various fiber-optics dots and connecting lines.)
NC (vo): These are choices that politicians, the media, and the common people make every day as our technology in so many fields continues to grow.
(Cut back to The Secret of NIMH.)
NC (vo): And as a result, we've struggled to keep up with what is the responsible and ethical way to use them.
Nicodemus: We can no longer live as rats. We know too much.
NC: Well, that's all fine and good, but that still raises the question: what is the significance of the Stone?
(Cut to a clip of Mrs. Brisby examining the Stone; she sees her reflection in it.)
NC (vo): The Stone in the movie is said to only have the power when someone shows courage of the heart. And in the end, it's Mrs. Brisby who, of course, uses it to save her family after nearly sacrificing herself for them. But it's never explained who created it, where it comes from, how it works, why it works, or even really what it is. Well, that brings in another element that's often overlooked in the science vs. nature battle: the unknown, the circumstances we can't explain, the questions we can't answer. That element as well will always be in humanity's struggle. Whether we call parts of this unknown element God, spirituality or merely the unexplained, there's always gonna be occurrences that neither science nor nature will have the answers, that sixth sense, those unexplained feelings that pull you in certain directions. Heck, you could even tie it into the mysteries of the past and the fears of the future, which are both talked about often in this film. So the Stone can be often defined as, well, anything that can't be defined. But what makes the film so interesting is that this, too, plays a major role in moving forward; how we treat the unknown, and when it's best to be resistant or embracing. And in this case, the kind, embracing heart of our hero is what pulls through. The Stone even manages to burn her when she touches it, but something still calls her to it. She still follows an unknown urge that she believes is still the right thing to do, and following that instinct ultimately leads her to saving the day.
Nicodemus: Courage of the heart is really rare. The Stone has a power when it's near.
NC (vo): So, it appears it's a three-way battle: science vs. nature vs. the unknown. And you can't act like you haven't seen people who rally behind one of these sides to an extreme.
(Cut to an image of a metal plate with the message on it: "In science we trust".)
NC (vo): That science is always correct...
(Cut to an image of a girl hugging a tree.)
NC (vo): ...or nature is always correct...
(Cut to an image of various images representing the unknown.)
NC (vo): ...or even the unknown is always correct.
(Cut back to the movie.)
NC (vo): By the time the movie is over, it isn't one element that everyone has to rally behind in order to move forward; it's a balance of all of them: science, nature and the unknown. All three are needed to pursue a strong, prosperous future; not one is left out. The addition of the unknown element is what makes this so fascinating, though, as it's not often seen as one of the fighting components with science and nature. If anything, it's often the problem: we want to make the unknown known, and we want to use one of these elements to figure it out. But here, it's not shown as one of the problems, it's shown as one of the answers; that the unknown, when treated with careful kindness and humble intentions, can be just as powerful as extreme ambition or logical reasoning.
Mrs. Brisby: (reading inscription on the Stone) "You can unlock any door, if you only have the key."
NC (vo): And that's why I think the film is so good. It has all the factors a film needs to be strong: great characters, story and so forth. But it also leaves it open for possibilities. It gives enough detail, but leaves just enough vagueness that there is room for interpretation.
NC: But now, am I honestly saying this is what the writers and the director of this film had in mind when they put this movie together? Probably not.
NC (vo): I don't know what their original mindset was, and I think it's very possible I'm reading more into it than what was originally intended. But that doesn't mean these themes and ideas still can't come from it. That's why movies are art: you can look at a film and get a totally different outlook than somebody else.
NC: Look at Triumph of the Will, the Nazi propaganda film.
(Cut to footage of Triumph of the Will.)
NC (vo): I'm sure the makers of that thought it was an inspiring, uplifting look at the future. But the rest of us were scared shitless, seeing it as a terrifying nightmare of what can happen if we don't fight back.
(Cut back to The Secret of NIMH.)
NC (vo): But just because an artist has a certain interpretation of their piece, doesn't mean that's the interpretation you should have. It's all in the eye of the beholder, and whether or not the theories and outlooks I have on this film are the same as the filmmakers', these theories and outlooks can still be connected, because these are the themes that I see in the film, and they're themes that other people should consider, too. They caution us of what it means to evolve, and what limitations and expectations we should consider. Any time there is a technological boom that will launch a culture into achieving a new kind of power, which obviously has occurred many times in the past and will continue to occur many times in the future, this story will be relevant. I don't think it's the first story to deal with the subject, but I think it's one of the more unique. It uses a family film to simplify the ideas; that is, get it down to its most basic form. That way, even kids look at and understand what's going on. And adults can interpret it as what is still going on today and what will most likely still be going on in the future. It sucks you in, gets you invested, and forces you to look at certain ideas from a different point of view. Which is more than I can say for certain...
(Cut to a poster for Secret of NIMH 2.)
NC (vo): ...piece-of-shit spinoffs!
(Cut to a clip of Secret of NIMH 2.)
NC (vo): (quickly) Unless Eric Idle as the villain is supposed to represent how in the creation and artwork the inside plays a casual role in bringing about actions significant for realizing particular aesthetic properties...
NC: ...but come on! That's obvious!
(Cut back to The Secret of NIMH.)
NC (vo): Whatever you take out of the film, this is my interpretation. Feel free to agree or create your own. But either way, the film deserves to be looked at and discussed by both children and adults. And in terms of whether or not the film will ever have a theory that the majority of people will agree on...
(Cut to the title card for the film.)
NC (vo): ...well, maybe in the end, that's the film's own little secret.
(Cut back to the Critic.)
NC: (smiling) Next, I will explain how (an image of the Care Bears appears in the left corner) Care Bears is related to (an image of a chart, showing two lines trending downward) our current economic downward spiral! (beat) Or maybe I should just stop there. (smiles nervously; the two images disappear) I'm the Nostalgia Critic; I remember it so you don't have to. (gets up from his chair and leaves)