A Philosopher's Blog

Mimsy was Hollywood

Posted in Aesthetics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on February 12, 2008

By chance, I saw a bit of the making of the film The Last Mimzy. Within seconds, I immediately thought of one of my favorite short stories”Mimsy Were the Borogoves” which was written by Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore. The story first appeared in John Campbell’s classic science fiction magazine Astounding way before my time (1943). The reference to the Mimsy (or Mimzy in the movie version) is from the poem about the Jabberwocky in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.

Whenever a film is made from a story or book I like, I always have a mix of feelings. One feeling is hope-hope that they will do what Peter Jackson did with the Lord of the Rings (stick to a brilliant story) or what was done with P. K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?(create a brilliant interpretation, Blade Runner, of a brilliant book). The other feeling is worry-worry that the movie will thoroughly desecrate the original as was done with A Wizard of Earthsea. In the case of Mimzy, it seems that the story was desecrated.

Hollywood writers often have two amazing knacks. One is for finding great stories. The other is for managing to write a screenplay from such a story that manages to leave out exactly what made the story great in the first place. To use an analogy, it is like a person who eats an amazing meal. Then, when he goes to cook the meal himself, he leaves out the critical ingredient and thus ruins the meal. This shows that while a person can have good taste, this does not make them a good cook (or a good writer).

The movie does follow some aspects of the story-a box of toys is sent back from the future and the toys (which are educational) transform the minds of two children. In the movie, the toys are sent back intentionally in order to save the future. Apparently, humans have wrecked the environment and need DNA from the past to fix the future. The toys are intended to enable that to happen. In the story, a scientist is working on a time machine and sends back whatever happened to be at hand-in this case a box of toys his child had outgrown.

In the movie, the children develop amazing mental powers. The same occurs in the story, but in the story the changes are somewhat frightening. The children become quite different from normal human beings. Not in a monstrous way, but in a way that distances them from their parents and the rest of humanity.

In the movie, the last Mimzy (a nanotech rabbit that is supposed to gather the human DNA) makes it back to the future with the DNA, despite the efforts of the government to interfere (sort of like in ET). In the short story, the children learn how to change dimensions and they leave the earth and their parents behind.

The short story has a great deal of depth to it and manages to invoke sadness. In addition to being excellent science fiction it also serves as a wonderful metaphor for how children grow not only up but away and the loss parents often feel. It also makes an interesting commentary on the possible development of the human race and how that might play out-thus nicely setting the stage for other classics in the same theme, such as the masterful Childhood’s End.

The mistake Hollywood so often makes is that the sense the greatness of a story, but do not seem to grasp what truly makes the story great. Hence, they create inferior works that serve to merely mock the original.

In the case of Mimzy, they tried to change the central meaning of the story-perhaps to cash in on the whole environmental craze. By doing this, they left behind the heart of the story. Naturally, a story will not survive the loss of its heart.