Finding Neverland is the backstory of how one of the greatest plays of all time was created. The movie stars Johnny Depp as the playwright J.M. Barrie – a role which garnered him an Oscar nod for best performance – and Kate Winslet in the role of a widower, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, who is stricken with a terminal illness and has four children. Winslet’s character’s declining health serves as an impetus for the married Barrie to spend more time with her children. This in turns inspires Barrie to write a series of short plays about their shared days with imagination thrown in as she becomes more bedridden. They are performed by Barrie, her four boys, and Barrie’s dog. That collection in turn become the play Peter Pan.
Okay, so why is this relevant? Well, first, I love this movie. Its construct is one of caring from Barrie’s character which is jaunted at every turn by his estranged wife who cannot have children. So, in her mind – as in ours as we learn more about the characters – Davies’ family and Davies’ herself becomes a “stand in” relationship. Their house becomes a place where he can be a father and fill a void he has while clouding it in altruism – something that is pointed out by Davies’ during a falling out.
But there are several scenes that are truly just touching, if not completely inspiring for a father of a young boy.
At one point, Barrie is filling the eldest child in about his mother’s terminal illness. There had been rumors and innuendo before, but apparently it is time to come clean about the difficult mess the already fatherless household will now face. In the instant that George realizes what this means, Barrie states:
“Magnificent. The Boy is gone. In the last 30 seconds…you’ve become a grown-up.”
I thought about this line the other day looking at my boy. We attended his daycare’s end of summer party. There was a bouncey castle, children’s games like ring toss and – while it’s not an official title – Bozo’s Buckets among other things. There were also hot dogs and free snow cones to enjoy in case anyone needed refreshments.
After playing in the castle for what seemed to be until he was about to break something from exhaustion and a few chances at those buckets, we decided to have some lunch. A blue raspberry snow cone complete with fancy umbrella was procured and a hot dog with ketchup. My son, ever being the consummate “I got this” kind of kid, took his lunch and walked over to a nearby curb by himself and sat down. The snow cone to his right, clutching his hot dog with his left and looking around as if it was his lunch break on a park bench in some undetermined city in an undetermined future watching people play Frisbee while he had to go back to work in a half hour.
The moment was profound. And scary. And beautiful. And sad. And all at the same time.
In that brief few seconds, I had a whole new appreciation for that line in Finding Neverland and for so many other concerns Barrie’s character has for those boys growing up too fast because they feel like they need to. I watched my son in amazement, but desperately wanted to run over to him and pull the clock backwards on his toddler days. It felt like his look into the parking lot was one of life’s contemplation. It was not a look that was unrecognizable for me as I do it from time to time as well.
I needed to tell him that it’s not time yet to become a full-fledged little boy. He still has time to run, jump, play, and imagine that he and his beloved, but all too fast outgrown, stuffed tiger can go on amazing adventures under a tent made of pillows and blankets.
But, as soon as the moment came and was observed, it was over. Like many moments when you watch your children – the observations you make are extraordinary. Calm came back to me and I was proud that he had made such a simple transition without pushing, shoving, or a second thought. And then, he got back up, and gave me his seventy-five percent not eaten hot dog saying he was done and wanted to go back into the bouncey castle –to which I gleefully thought was an excellent idea. Maybe the brief moment in time was just that.
In a time when it seems we’re increasingly losing sight of “play” – as Barrie references towards the end of the film – what will that pressure do to our children? We are forced, in so many ways, in today’s society to focus on the immediate and seemingly catastrophic: emails, text messages, climate change, a do-nothing-Congress, ongoing battles for civil rights, or the endless amounts of responsibilities we place on our shoulders day in and day out. Can you remember the last time you just went and played?
As summer comes to a close and we begin to get our children ready to return to school, take a few days off work or whatever you’re doing and take a trip. Put your phone in airplane mode and take a drive. Explore. Learn. And, most importantly, play. Your inner child will thank you for it. The memories it creates may provide scenes to your very own Neverland.