—Review by Darrel Manson
—Review by Melinda Ledman
—Review by Michael Ray
—Review by Matt Hill
—About this Film
Let me begin by clearly stating that Finding Neverland will bring a tear to your eye—quite possibly more than one. And while the film is centered on the life of J.M. Barrie, writer of the whimsical Peter Pan, the story is anything but fantastical. Johnny Depp delivers a wonderfully earth-bound performance as the famed playwright, fleshing out layers of emotional depth and world-weary charm from within the character. Barrie’s life certainly isn’t the cartoon land of fairies and pirates that populate his popular play. Instead, his soul is filled with a profound sorrow that ultimately inspires him to create a realm of escapism.
And while director Marc Forster indeed paints Finding Neverland with these emotional grey scales, the film also captures the color and innocent beauty of youth. Forster focuses his narrative on Barrie’s relationship with the Davies family, which has recently experienced the death of Mr. Davies. As Barrie spends time with the four boys, he and Mrs. Davies (Kate Winslet) grow as friends. His mental field trips while playing with the boys are cleverly captured by fantastical cutaway scenes of dancing bears, cowboys, and pirate ships. But the delights of Barrie’s adventures into boyhood games are interrupted by his decaying marriage and home-life. His wife (Radha Mitchell) disapproves of Barrie’s long hours of imaginative drifting, but when Mrs. Davies begins to take ill, Barrie becomes even more involved in the life of the Davies boys.
Through the exploration of these relationships, the film evokes a strong feeling of spiritual craving for the transcendent. I was touched by the melancholic longing that arose in me while watching: this is a film about the desire to hold youth, innocence, and beauty before they escape behind the curtain of time. What does this feel like? It’s a desperate yearning that touches every human soul. It’s like the pain of a beautiful sunset—the yellow and orange of new birth contrasted with the hollow descent into darkness. It’s a twilight world of dreams and hopes reaching beyond the suddenness of fear and pain.
In the Davies’ case, it feels like the confusion of little boys losing themselves in joyous play only to be forced back to the grim reality of a dead father. Barrie’s own childhood was robbed at a young age when his older brother died and his mother looked to him as the man of the home. At that point, as Barrie describes it, his boyhood self left for Neverland—but the ache for his early days never escapes him. He does find solace in sharing the burdens of the Davies family, but it doesn’t ease the longing. They mourn together while searching for a Realm where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4).
All people yearn for a Neverland—a place of respite untouched by the grief and loss of adult life. Adam and Eve once stood outside the Garden of Eden, and watched with horror as the gates shut them out of their paradise. The children of perfection had to wear the adult clothes of the Curse. Yet the vision of the Garden has never completely faded in this world, and is indeed glimpsed in every moment of happiness, joy, and wonder. Every human heart longs to return to the peace and perfection of God’s original, unblemished world. The wonderful end of the story is that the resurrected Christ Jesus has overcome death and will one day return to escort his children to a new Paradise. And the grief and loss of this world will forever be swallowed up in the ecstasy of the True Neverland.