In Milton’s Secret, eleven year old Milton (William Ainscough) seems to have the weight of the world on his shoulders. His parents (Mia Kirshner and David Sutcliff) are constantly worried about business and finances. He’s bullied by his neighbor. He describes his life as living on “Planet Fear.” He and a friend sneak into an abandoned house to do alchemy experiments, seeking to create some gold that will solve his problems. But the transformation his world needs will require some help.
The film opens with a montage of angry and frustrated people during the opening credits. That sets the world as one without much happiness. Certainly Milton’s family doesn’t seem to have much happiness in it. But then his grandfather (Donald Sutherland) comes to visit. Grandpa Howard seems to have evolved into something of an aging hippie. (He sips herbal tea, listens to 60s music, started riding a motorcycle, and is dating his Zumba instructor.) His daughter is not really pleased with the way he is acting recently. But he is at peace with himself and the world around him. While everyone is away at work and school, Grandpa starts pulling out the dead plants in the back yard and re-landscaping it. At the same time he begins the process of transforming the lives of the family.
The family has been suffering the caustic effects of worry. Milton feels alone. His parents’ relationship is strained. Failure seems to be close at hand on many fronts. But Grandpa Howard urges Milton to get away from worrying about what has happened or will happen and appreciate the moment he is in. That philosophy is the key ingredient in the personal alchemy that Grandpa teaches Milton—and Milton goes on to teach to others in his world.
The way the philosophy is presented may have something of a Buddhist feel to it, but it is an idea that is also to be found in the Gospels. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches about worrying about what will happen (Matthew 6:25-34). Jesus tells us to look to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air and how God provides for them. Rather than worrying about tomorrow, we are to seek God’s Kingdom and righteousness. For many people that may be one of the most difficult of Jesus’ teachings to follow.
Photos courtesy of Momentum Pictures