Finding Neverland (2004)
Finding Neverland tells a story about how playwright James M. Barrie got his inspiration for writing his most famous play, Peter Pan. But this moving film is not only about that, but also about the ways in which we deal with difficult times in our lives, and sadness, and most of all the power of imagination.
Johnny Depp plays J.M. Barrie, who has reached a point in his life where he is struggling to write in a meaningful way that will connect with audiences. His latest play was a huge bomb, but promoter Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman) is willing to sink money into Barrie's productions regardless. Barrie spends his days in the park, where one day he meets the Davies family: mother Sylvia (Kate Winslet), and boys Jack (Joe Prospero), George (Nick Roud), Michael (Luke Spill), and the aloof Peter (Freddie Highmore), in whom James sees a lot of himself.
James takes an instant shine to the boys and their mother, and when he learns that they have recently lost their father, and that Sylvia's health is also deteriorating, he begins spending more time with them. Their time together is spent pretending they are pirates and indians, and director Marc Forster uses an inventive approach here mixing shots of reality and the imaginary world within scenes.
All this time they are spending together, however, creates a rift between James and his wife Mary (Radha Mitchell), who wishes he would spend more time with her, and is suspicious that he is carrying on an affair with Sylvia. Sylvia's mother (Julie Christie) is also jealous of the time James is spending with her grandchildren, and is suspicious of his motives. James contends that he just wants to be their friend, and we sense a mutual need from both the boys and Barrie. All this time, James is putting together his latest play, which is based on his experiences with the boys.
As I said before, Finding Neverland is deeply moving in its depiction of the relationships between James, the boys, and Sylvia, and their respective needs to escape to a place James likes to call Neverland in order to cope with the sadness and emptiness in their lives. The film is not manipulative in evoking emotions from its viewers; it simply allows us to become familiar with these characters, and when sadness strikes, we truly feel for them.
It would be great if none of these people ever had to find Neverland, but sometimes it's necessary to spend some time in a land of make believe in order to cope with the harshness of the real world. Unfortunately for all of us, we can't stay in Neverland too long, because eventually the ticking clock inside the crocodile catches up to us.
April 2, 2005