What Maisie Knew

I just watched a great film called What Maisie Knew.  It is a modern day adaptation of the 1897 Henry James' novel about two parents warring over the possession of their little girl Maisie.

The parents, one an ageing rock star (Julianne Moore), the other a businessman (Stephen Coogan), spend a lot of resources to satisfy their self-absorbed and selfish desires to have sole custody of Maisie.  These desires have little to do with Maisie the person, but rather Maisie the possession they are forced to share.  Maisie, played with understated perfection by  Onata Aprile, is a self-possessed little girl with a penchant for playing with little animals characters and drawing.  At first, it seems like her parents almost constant fights, don't really phase her.  However, as you watch the parents sling her between apartments (often in the company of other adults), it begins to sink in that something crucial is at risk.

As they approach a house where they will be staying for a while, the nanny asks Maisie if she can guess where the key is hidden.  Maisie says she can't guess.  Her nanny responds, "it's under the mat in front of the door."  It is in this little exchange that as an observer I realize that I am expecting her to say something really ludicrous.  To Maisie it is ludicrous.  And that is the magic of innocence. And it is this innocence that is at stake.  Neither of her parents demonstrate an inkling that her innocence is of some value.

Into the fray enters a bartender who her mom marries to get back at her dad.  Lincoln is rumpled and a little clueless about kids, but it is he who begins to show the audience that her parents have completely ignored their roles as protectors of Maisie's innocence.  One of their first encounters, they decide to draw a moat together for Maisie's castle.  Later Lincoln shows her a picture of animals and he makes her guess why he thought she would like it.  She guesses right this time.  The animals are for their moat.


It is these sweet little exchanges between Maisie and the caring adults, that make this movie worth watching.  It is a tale of how worth protecting innocence actually is and that it is the responsibility of adults to make this happen.

As you gaze around the tiny play figurines in Maisie's world, arranged in various configurations, dappled by sunlight, you begin to wonder just exactly what Maisie knows.

When I finished the movie, I turned to my children with a renewed conviction that I need to uphold their innocence and fresh eyed approach to new things with fierceness and gentleness. I stumbled on my daughter playing with her toys alone in her room.  I hadn't seen her do that for a long time and I immediately left the room, not wanting to disturb such an important activity.

Even though he has passed on, each and every time I finish watching a movie, I still think, "I wonder what Roger Ebert said about that one."  Here is what he said about this one..

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