If you were on Twitter last night, you probably would have seen me live-tweet my watching of the 2003 version of Peter Pan with Jason Isaacs as Hook. I apparently blog about this movie a lot (see this review, and this review and this mention), and generally all within the same context: coming-of-age.
I always forget that it’s one of my favourite movies until the mood strikes me to rewatch it. As far as children’s books go, I never list PETER PAN as one of my top influential books (I was probably the most heavily influenced by HIS DARK MATERIALS and ALICE IN WONDERLAND and THE SECRET GARDEN). Why? It deals with the same themes as HIS DARK MATERIALS, a brutally poignant coming-of-age, but I never seem to remember its beauty until something reminds me of it.
Perhaps it’s because I suspect PETER PAN, while a wonderful adventure story for children, is really for adults. So much of the book is infused with the pain of growing up, its inevitability, the desire to prolong childhood, which is all the more heartbreaking for those who have already lost childhood. I first read PETER PAN when I was 12, and while amused, it seemed such a simplistic fairy story I forgot all about it until I was 22. What a difference 10 years makes to a work like PETER PAN, especially to a girl who had just entered the grown-up world for real: her first job, her first apartment, her first taste of true independence.
For me, the movie encapsulates so much of what was so painful about the book, but visualizes it in such a way as to drive the points home. Whenever I read PETER PAN, I always envision Peter and Wendy around 7 or 8 years old, probably because Peter is described as having all of his baby teeth. But the movie casts our leads to be about 12, an age when so many of us were discovering the first inklings of “adult” romance without truly understanding what it means. What I feel is wonderful about this movie is how it can evoke the thrilling beginnings of sexual desire while making it seem utterly chaste. The lingering, longing looks exchanged by Peter and Wendy, the significance of a touch, finding the line between reality and make-believe, and the tragic but utterly right ending.
The earnestness of the children’s romance paired with the wry observations of the adults is one of the places this movie is thoroughly entertaining. One of the best lines in the film is delivered by Hook:
Growing up is a barbarous business. Full of inconvenience! And pimples.
I see a lot of retellings of Pan on the market, and while I’m sure there are fans who love them, I am not in their number. Honestly, for me, the real magic of this story lies in its classic, bone-deep subconscious growing-up fairytale, about a girl who flies away to a magical place and discovers that the sorrows of growing up are still richer than the pleasures of perpetual childhood. If I ever see a Pan retelling, I don’t want it to figure Peter or Wendy at all; I want to see characters who tap into our deepest psyches and pull at this bildungsroman we have or will experience. I want my heartstrings to twang. I want to feel the ghostly hand of impending mortality to clutch at my breast, reminding me that life is sweet because of its brevity.
Now go watch the 2003 film version of Peter Pan. If you don’t laugh, swoon, and cry…yeah, I got nuthin’. Gaah.