Finding Neverland

Hard to Recommend. This is a complex one. This film is really quite brilliant, and Oscar-worthy on all accounts of the craft. It even has some very beautiful truths in it. The problem I have with it is that it is pure Romanticism, humanistic religion. Let me explain. It’s the story of the man who created Peter Pan, Sir James Matthew Barrie. He meets a widow with three boys and befriends them all in his visits to the park. One of the boys, Peter, has lost his innocence to cyncism because of his father’s death. He doesn’t see the fun in life. He cannot play imaginatively with his brothers because it’s all just foolishness. He has a keen awareness of death. Barrie is more the child and tries to get little Peter to explore his imagination and write, because he is a good little writer. So we have a man-child teaching a child-man how to rediscover imagination, to regain his innocence lost too soon. The boy can’t have fun imagining his dog is a dancing bear because “he’s just a dog.” But Barrie explains to him that a diamond is “just a rock” without a bit of imagination. Barrie bases his character’s name, Peter Pan, on this little boy. But by the end of the story, we see little Peter explain to the stunned, Barrie and audience, “I’m not Peter Pan, HE’S Peter Pan.” So the whole theme of this story is the redemption of imagination. How realism can kill our spirits if we do not believe in the transcendence of reality. The “realists” are those whose skepticism is self destructive. Or, as Barrie puts it, “just when I find a glimmer of happiness in this world, there’s always someone who wants to destroy it.” There is a moment when Barrie’s patron laments about the theater’s loss of innocence, “They changed it. The critics. They made it important.” Some great writing throughout this work of art. Another beautiful coming of age moment occurs when the eldest brother tells Barrie not to visit his mother because even though he likes Barrie, he just doesn’t want his mother to be hurt again. Barrie responds, “Ah, there it is. In thirty seconds, you just became a man. The boy has left.” Very profound understanding of what becoming an adult is, a recognition of mortality and the concern for others. It’s a great coming of age story. It’s a wonderful romp into the world of beauty and creativity, the necessity of imagination in our lives as human beings. My problem is that the Romanticism of the worldview is a God substitute. Barrie is the artist as prophet. Imagination is salvation, a faith substitute. Art as religion, literally. And in true Romantic passion, Barrie misplaces his love onto the fun-loving widow (played by Kate Winslet) who becomes his muse, rather than on his own wife. While they do not commit physical adultery, the story is essentially emotional adultery. Another Bridges of Madison County. Argh! The Romantic, rather than fix his marriage and face his own immature selfishness, seeks elsewhere for passion. The only sin to the Romantic is to restrain the heart. “Follow your heart” is his mantra. Doing the right thing becomes oppressive to these selfish infantile narcisists. Neverland becomes the symbol for imagination, indeed salvation, and Barrie’s wife wants him to take her there (in his heart), but instead he takes the widow. In fact, his devotion to the widow and his art drives his wife to adultery and divorce, but quite frankly, he is the one to blame, making him rather unsympathetic, a jerk of a protagonist if you ask me. Anyway, this idea of art as religion is climaxed when the widow dies and we see a imaginative representation of her entering Neverland (read: heaven substitute). Barrie tells her mourning sons, “Mom is still here on every page of your imagination. She’ll be with you always.” Well, Romanticism wants to ignore God but maintain the transcendence that only God can provide. A transcendence that gives meaning to this life because this is not all there is. There is an afterlife, there is eternal life. Romanticism negates God and hijacks the language and concepts of religious faith and substitutes creativity and imagination for the deity. It worships creation in place of the Creator. This is all very unsatisfying and dishonest for a worldview that conceives of this world as all there is to create a false hope in the living by appealing to imagination. Imagination, when properly rooted in the ultimate Creator has true value and meaning in reflecting God’s image. Without this transcendence, imagination becomes self deception and creativity, mere diversion. Imagination as imago populi is idolatry and spiritual death. Imagination as imago dei is truth and redemption.

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