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The pirate inside} ?> This October, Pan, yet another adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s classic work, will arrive in theaters. It’s the latest in a long time of properties featuring the boy that never grew up.
My favourite work about Peter Pan, though, isn’t about the boy – it’s about the man that he becomes.
Steven Spielberg’s Hook, featuring an adult Peter, turns 25 years old next year. By most accounts, the film was a disappointment. The beginning was too slow, the sword fights too silly, and the behind-the-scenes drama too distracting. But for my dad and I, both ardent fans of Robin Williams (Peter Pan) and Dustin Hoffman (Captain Hook), Hook was cinematic magic.
Part of the beauty of the movie is that the dialogue is often lyrical, almost poetic. It’s eminently quotable. One of my favorite lines from the film is when Peter speaks at the movie’s closing. When asked by Wendy what he’ll do after his latest and grandest adventure, he replies:
“To live… to live would be an awfully big adventure.”
Today, that line reads like it belongs in a movie that is meant to inspire in the most inauthentic way. But as the closing of Hook, it means more—it’s the conclusion of an adventure and of one chapter of Peter’s life, and the beginning of a new one. It also speaks to the viewers, telling us that we, too, need to remember how to live adventurously.
But how can we live an adventure? Hook gives us that answer as well.
Becoming a Pirate
The movie begins by introducing us to Peter Banning. Having forgotten his past in Neverland, he’s now grown up and more like the work-consumed father of Silver Spoon than the rascally Peter of his youth. His reality changes, however, when his son (Jack) and daughter (Annie) are kidnapped by none other than his old nemesis, Captain Hook.
Taken by Tinkerbell to Neverland, Peter almost immediately faces the captain, who’s puzzled upon seeing his archrival is a grown man. Peter Banning, now a corporate lawyer, is a little too chubby, a little too old, and much too cowardly to be his old foe. What Hook doesn’t realize during his close inspection of Peter, though, is this: what he’s seeing is largely a reflection of himself.
Indeed, like Wendy says earlier in the film, Peter is no longer Pan. Instead, he has “become a pirate.”
Hook defines for us what a pirate is. Yes, he is a terror on the seas, but more than that, a pirate is a hedonist. And the pleasure that thrills Hook the most is the possibility of again facing his greatest enemy and the possibility of killing him. Hook will give up all his treasure, all the opportunities to kill Lost Boys, all the other desires in his life for this one prospect, even at the risk of death. After all, Hook tells us, death is the only great adventure left.
Peter may not the look the part of a pirate, but in his own way, he resembles the captain. Peter’s life has been centered on self, as he’s exchanged family and love for success, power, and respect. He, too, is living for pleasure. The viewers can see that Peter is as mistaken as Hook is, seeking a life that is hollow, devoid of love. Through Peter we see the common advice that if we fill our lives solely with things that money can buy, we’re losing out on what’s really important—that which worldly success cannot gain. As you build your life through things that bring immediate pleasure, you instead do the very opposite. You destroy it.
Living Like a Lost Boy
So how do you turn the cynical, business-minded Banning back into the childlike Peter? The Lost Boys and Tinkerbell approach the challenge by trying to remind Peter of what he was once like. They play rough-and-tumble games to try to bring the child out of the man, and it works to some extent. But just remembering the rambunctiousness of youth isn’t enough.
Real transformation begins as Peter spends time with the Lost Boys, becoming familiar with their childish innocence, as demonstrated by Thud Butt’s reminiscing about family. But real, abiding change occurs when Peter remembers the love he has for his own family; it’s then that Banning reverts to his inner child and becomes Pan.
When Peter arrives in the climactic scene to battle Hook, he fights with the ingenuity of a child warrior, but as his enemy gains the upper hand, it’s again a childlike love that reaches Peter. On the precipice of death, Peter’s resolve is strengthened when the children call out to him, saying they “believe.” The faith the children have in Peter is warm and genuine, and it mirrors Peter’s return to an almost naïve state of mind in which love becomes the driving force of what he does. Their trust and faith in Peter is the same trust and faith he’s now placing in his family—something unshakeable and powerful and ever so much stronger than the success and riches that he had built his life upon.
Peter didn’t need to have the mind of a child to become Pan—he needed to have a child’s heart. When he receives it, faith and love transform and restore Peter. And that sets him upon his next adventure.
A Big Adventure
After defeating Hook and returning from Neverland, Peter remains a changed man. He brings back with him not just Jack and Annie, but a renewed heart. He tosses his cell phone out a window, and along with it his affections for career and success, which had nearly killed all his memories of Neverland and almost destroyed his life. Instead, Peter accepts a life ever so much fuller.
And as the movie ends, we’re brought back to reality, to a place devoid of fairy dust and children that don’t age and mermaids and pirate wars. But even in the snowy landscape of Britain, Peter realizes that an exciting new world has opened to him, one which he now sees with childlike eyes. And living that kind of life, Peter realizes—why, that would be an awfully big adventure.
This article is part of an article swap with Beneath the Tangles. Visit their website at www.beneaththetangles.com.