I’m a sensitive guy but I don’t cry very often. Usually, the only time I find myself crying is at the movies. For me, crying is a beautiful release and when I’m watching a movie and it comes over me, I always let it out. I figure if the hard parts of my life don’t bring me to tears, then I’d better let them out whenever the opportunity presents itself, even if I’m not completely sure what it is about the image on the screen that is moving me so deeply. When I first saw FINDING NEVERLAND, it was a matinee showing. There weren’t too many people in the theatre and that suited me just fine. This way, I got to sob profusely while still maintaining some sense of privacy. When the film was released to own, I brought it home and, to my surprise, cried just as much as I did the first time I saw it. When I watched it again recently to prepare for this piece, I was concerned, at first, that it wasn’t as good as I remembered it in my mind. But then, before I could get across the room to get my box of tissues, I was weeping once again.
Based on Allan Knee’s play, “The Man Who Was Peter Pan”, FINDING NEVERLAND is something of a tear-jerker that seems deliberately designed for boys. This is Peter Pan after all and what man cannot identify with the age old tale about not wanting to ever grow up? Certainly not this one anyway. That said, I don’t think this is what gets me crying each time; that would be too simple an explanation. No, it is something inherent in the story itself that speaks directly to this boy’s heart. FINDING NEVERLAND is a story about feeling inspiration and fostering your imagination. Without either of these, Neverland could never be found. James Barrie (Johnny Depp) is the author of “Peter Pan” and the film gives us the chance to see the very real components that would become one of the most timeless children’s classics in history. As a writer, especially one who struggles to find the words from time to time, seeing that they can come from everything transpiring right in front of me was truly freeing.
Historically, Barrie met the Llewelyn Davies family in London’s Kensington Gardens in 1897. In the film, it unfolds exactly the same way, only the man of the family, Arthur, has already passed away and, of the family’s five young boys, only four make the film for fear of overcrowding. The mother, Sylvia (Kate Winslet), is simply enjoying her time in the park with her boys when Barrie suddenly becomes a central figure in the boys’ game. From that moment on, he never stops playing with them. It isn’t quite so joyous for all the boys though, what with their father recently passed. No, young Peter (played by Freddie Highmore in the role that turned him into a child star) finds himself facing adult realities that are far too harsh for him to process, let alone preserve his innocence. Barrie steps in as a father figure but the healing does not begin so easily. Barrie must remind the boys that their imaginations can take them anywhere they want to go, any time they want to go there. As he unleashes the power of his imagination in hopes of rekindling theirs, he finds something completely unexpected – Peter Pan.
Director, Marc Forster, whom I have a love/hate relationship with (basically, I love this film and hate most of his other work), does his best to do to his audience that which Barrie is determined to do for his lost boys. FINDING NEVERLAND flows back and forth between scenes of hardship (loveless marriages, financial woes and terminal illness) and magical escapes, from pirate ships in the backyard to children bouncing from their beds and taking flight. “Neverland” is a place where one never has to grow up and it is always just on the other side of our conscious minds waiting for us to visit whenever we need to or just plain feel like it. All any of us has to do to find it is believe that it is there. At no time does it feel like FINDING NEVERLAND is encouraging us to ignore our responsibilities so that we can play whenever we want. It is quite the contrary really. Forster and friends are just trying to help us find it in ourselves so that it can help us get through all the tears.