Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My New Favorite Movie: Finding Neverland

The title of this post sort of implies that I've only recently seen Finding Neverland for the first time. What's actually the case is that I just watched it again (my wife's a big Kate Winslet fan and we're working our way chronologically through her filmography) and was reminded of how much I like it. More than Casablanca even, for reasons I'll mention in a minute.

But Casablanca has been My Favorite Movie for a very long time and I'm not a ship whose course is easy to change once it's set. I still love the movie for all the reasons I mentioned before, but Finding Neverland hits me on a much deeper, more personal level and that's why it gets the top spot. I can more clearly illustrate why that is by re-posting my review of the film (lost in the unsearchable world of LiveJournal) from right after I'd seen it for the first time.

Which I'll do right after the break:

Just recently, I wrote about how I need to find my voice and release the little boy in me who fell in love with making up stories. I've been thinking about that since then and have been practicing less self-censorship lately. And then I went and saw Finding Neverland.

I went because I love Johnny Depp and because I love Peter Pan, but I got so much more out of it than I expected. I love Peter Pan because of the pirates, but I don't think I ever really got the point Barrie was trying to make with the story until tonight. It's a little kid who refuses to grow up yeah yeah sure sure "inner child" blah blah blah. That changed tonight. After Finding Neverland, I got it.

It's a powerful, powerful film and I found myself getting emotional during a couple of scenes, both of which depict the acting out of Barrie's play. Thinking about what made me emotional during them has had a profound impact on me. I don't know how profound yet. But it's important. It'll be life-changing if I let it. There may be some mild spoilers to follow, so watch your step.

The first scene I misted up in depicts Opening Night of Peter Pan. Everyone is nervous about what the play's reception will be. Barrie's last play was a bomb and no one has a lot of confidence in him, especially with all the weird stuff he's throwing into this one. The main character's a fairy? There's a man playing a dog? And a crocodile with a clock inside? And you're going to ask London Society to come to this play in their tuxedos and evening gowns and respond... how exactly?

Then Barrie gets an idea. He asks the play's producer to reserve 25 seats, scattered around the theater, but won't say who for. On Opening Night, after a suitably dramatic period of time, Barrie's guests arrive. They're all children from the orphanage. To the shock, sneers, and derision of London's upper crust, the children take their seats all over the auditorium and the play begins. At first, the fears of the naysayers come true. The guy in the dog suit comes on stage and begins to prepare slippers and make beds in the nursery. London is bored. Some people start frowning and whispering, some simply nod off. But then the laughter is heard. Not mocking laughter, but the laughter of delighted children at the antics of the dog. Gleeful laughter. Infectious laughter. It spreads throughout the audience and soon mutton-chopped gentleman and bejeweled ladies are giggling right alongside scruffy waifs. Barrie knew what he was doing. The children needed to be there to teach the grown-ups how to appreciate what they were seeing. They helped turn 'theater' back into 'play.' And my eyes watered watching it happen.

I don't want to spoil the second scene for you, but the scene I just described was only warming up for what was to come. It was another production of the play for a different audience and this time... This time I was full out, tears-streaming, lip-quivering weeping. I didn't understand it at first. It wasn't like the end of Old Yeller or The Champ or even the scene in Return of the King that always gets me when all of Gondor bows before the hobbits. It was just a play. A beautiful, beautiful presentation of the play, but it was still just a play. And then it hit me.

I was crying for every person in the world who's so wrapped up in life that he's forgotten what it means to dream. I was heart-broken for every person in the world who's so serious about her responsibilities that she's lost the ability to use her imagination. I was profoundly sad for the part of myself that closes off emotionally and questions whether an action I'm doing or a phrase I'm writing will be perceived as appropriate or proper. The part of myself that wants to be grown up.

And I got Peter Pan.

I need Peter Pan.

Not just in my writing, but in my life. It's not about avoiding responsibility and making someone else take it all on so that I can live a carefree life. It's about taking the proper attitude towards responsibility and having fun with it. And dreaming. And making up stories.

I don't know that I've found my voice. That's just going to come with more and more writing. But I've found the little boy. I see him on the face of my son and I feel him dancing in my heart and at last I'm ready to let him out.

Thank you, J.M. Barrie.
Though I'm comfortable with my writing voice these days, the rest of my thoughts about the film still apply. I'm still occasionally tempted to grow-up (in my writing life and in my personal life) and Finding Neverland still reminds me not to do that. And I still cry during those two scenes.


Kelly Sedinger said...

Assuming the second scene is the one I think it is, I've always thought the film should have simply faded to credits right after that scene ended.

Finding Neverland's score, by Jan AP Kaczmarek, is central to the film's magic. It's chamber music throughout, and it so enhances and creates the movie's mood of magic and dream. Kaczmarek won an Oscar for his effort, which struck me as totally fitting: this gentle chamber-music score took the Oscar the year after Howard Shore's gigantic, and epic Return of the King score did.

Michael May said...

I should re-watch it again, paying closer attention to the music. Thanks for that suggestion.

I can see what you're saying about ending the movie after the private performance. It would still feel complete that way and it's a more dramatic moment than the one in the actual ending.

But I'm glad we got the ending we did because ultimately the movie is Peter's story and his last line also has a lot of emotional power, just in a much more quiet way.

Michael Roberts said...

One of the most emotional movies, that I`ve ever seen. Great choice. And Johnny Depp is awesome like always.


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