8. At the Library
As Matilda grows up, she learns to take care of herself in her parents’ absence and finds comfort in books. At just three years old, she walks to the public library to read voraciously for hours on end. Finally, the librarian tells the bright young girl that she could get a library card, which would let her check out as many books as she would like and take them home. In Matilda’s words, ‘That would be wonderful.’
This moment is short and sweet, but gives us a brief insight into Matilda’s curious nature. In an extreme long shot, the camera tracks Matilda and the librarian as they stroll down an aisle, and it pulls back to reveal the wealth of books around them. The bookcases tower above Matilda, but instead of overwhelming her, they show the world of possibility within her reach now that an adult has taken an interest and inspired her.
7. ‘The Million Dollar Sticky’
If Matilda is sweet and bookish, her family is anything but. When her father, Harry (Danny DeVito), isn’t selling defective cars and her mother, Zinnia (Rhea Perlman), isn’t at the bingo hall, the Wormwoods spend each evening eating TV dinners and watching sleazy game shows. One night when Matilda is engrossed in “Moby-Dick”, Harry berates her for reading, rips apart her library book, and pins her down to watch ‘The Million Dollar Sticky.’ Then, shockingly, the television set explodes.
DeVito mirrors the same technique he uses in the newt scene to build tension around Matilda’s telekinetic abilities. With her scrunched-up nose and determined stare, Matilda is a pressure cooker ready to burst. Through a series of shot/reverse-shot extreme close-ups between the gaudy game show and her frustrated expression, we see our first glimpse of her power, even if by accident. This scene is a strong indicator of Matilda’s strength and how she will continue to stand up for herself against bullish grown-ups.
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6. Let Bruce Eat Cake
At a school assembly, Miss Trunchbull claims that a quiet, kind boy named Bruce (Jimmy Karz) stole her piece of chocolate cake. She invites him up to the stage to humiliate and punish him by forcing him to eat an entire cake in front of his classmates. At first, he seems happy to tuck into the dessert, but his expression slowly turns green. It looks like Trunchbull is going to win this round, but Matilda leads a supportive cheer for Bruce amongst the students.
This is a glorious moment of student rebellion against Trunchbull’s tyranny and one of the most memorable scenes from the film. DeVito employs close-ups and a fish-eye lens to maximize feelings of disgust and apprehension, as well as canted angles to show the students spiralling out of control. This moment could have appeared higher on the list if it were not for the possibility of some viewers turning green as well.