Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Review: Tuck Everlasting

I'm a fan of The Gilmore Girls, so my interest in Tuck Everlasting was created by a desire to see what else Alexis Bledel was capable of. I didn't realize that the rest of the cast was as cool as they are.

I was really excited to learn that a couple of Alias alumni, Amy Irving and Victor Garber, play Bledel's parents. Unfortunately, they don't have much interesting to do since they're just playing stereotypical, wealthy parents whose primary interests are being pretentious and controlling their headstrong daughter. Bledel's role isn't much better. She rebels against her folks by running away into the woods where she meets the Tuck family, who discovered a magical spring 90 or so years ago that made them immortal when they drank from it.

Now the Tuck parents (William Hurt and Sissy Spacek) spend their years hidden away in the forest near the spring while their sons (Scott Bairstow and Jonathan Jackson) travel the world and come home once every ten years. Bairstow is great as the tortured, older son whose experience with immortality has led him to see it as a curse. Jackson is much more starry-eyed about the whole deal.

Sissy Spacek is completely convincing as a woman who's satisfied with her life, if a little sad about the sacrifices that she and her family have had to make. She's easily the most interesting character in the movie. William Hurt was a strange choice to play the dad. His ubiquitous sad-and-weary performance works okay for the character once the Tucks learn that they've been discovered and will have to do something drastic, but he's not as good early in the film when he and his family are supposed to be care-free and confident in their isolation.

Another cast member that deserves mentioning is Ben Kingsley as a man who knows more than he should about the Tucks and is hunting them down for some reason. Kingsley's character is almost foppish in his mannerisms, but no less menacing or deadly. He does a lot with his generic, otherwise dull, villain role, but you can almost see him straining to do it. That's the way most of the actors are. You can see them fighting to breathe life into uninspired characters. The exceptions to that are Bairstow and Spacek who have some good material to work with and do great things with it.

More than boring characters though, the movie's major flaw is that it wants to make a point about living a full life, but does everything in its power to water it down. This all culminates in a decision that Bledel has to make at the end of the movie. After spending time with the Tucks and falling in love with Jackson's character, she has to decide whether to drink from the magical spring herself or live a finite life as a regular person. In spite of her natural fear of death and her love for her immortal boyfriend, she's haunted by something William Hurt said to her earlier in the film. "If there's one thing I've learned about people," he said, "many will do anything, anything not to die. And they'll do anything to keep from living their life." He says, "What we Tucks have, you can't call it living. We just... are. We're like rocks, stuck at the side of a stream." And finally, "Don't be afraid of death. Be afraid of the unlived life."

It's a nice idea for the point of a movie, it's just not the real point of this one. For all of Hurt's analogy of being stuck at the side of the stream, the movie paints the side of the stream as a very nice place to be. Yeah, the Tucks are going to have to make a change now that they've been found out, but for the last several decades they've apparently been doing just fine. They live in a magical-looking cottage next to a picturesque lake in the middle of a deep, enchanted forest surrounded by majestic mountains. The boys travel the world, seeing everything it has to offer, before coming home for a spell to visit and dance with their loving parents. Bledel's time with them is bewitching. The film spends a lot of time on beautiful scenery and creating spellbinding moments between her and Jackson. It all makes Hurt's speech sound empty.

Even Bairstow's character, as wounded as he is, has the potential to move past his pain and enjoy his existence if only he would. The usual argument against immortality in fantasy stories is that the immortal is forced to watch his loved ones grow old and die. But in Tuck Everlasting with its magical spring that anyone can drink from, that's not a concern.

Spoiler Below

All of this makes Bledel's conflict at the end much easier than it's supposed to be. And it makes her decision not to drink and to live a normal life look ridiculous given what we've seen in the movie up to that point. And the fact that we learn almost nothing about her post-Tucks normal life leaves us unsure about whether her decision ultimately ended up being the correct one after all.

Lots of other stories have done an excellent job of painting immortal life as lonely and tragic. Everything from Mary Shelley's "The Mortal Immortal" to the movie Highlander. I recommend checking some of those out instead. And if you're like me and just want to see what Alexis Bledel can do outside of The Gilmore Girls, Sin City is a much better option.

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