Thoughts on Pan and the Insidious Evil at the Heart of Neverland

So last night my father and I took my son and nephew to go see “Pan”. It’s the first movie I’ve watched in the theater in a long time and it left me with some thoughts that just won’t go away so here is, not so much a review, but instead a reaction, to Pan. If you care, it should be pretty obvious that spoilers are incoming.

First, if you don’t know Pan is a prequel of sorts to the story of Peter Pan that we’re all more familiar with. It’s the “tale we’ve never heard” about how things started. I enjoyed the movie. It was fun, nice to look at, had some well done references to Peter Pan lore, had a really fun villain in Hugh Jackman’s Black beard, and even found room to squeeze in Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”  and The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Pop” in scenes I actually wish I could watch again right now.

It’s not perfect by any means: a pale white actress for Tiger Lilly the princess of the Neverland Natives, who appeared to be a fairly mixed group of PoCs otherwise? There really isn’t any way I think that could be a defensible choice. And in the end I’m not 100% sure why everyone was waiting around for the boy who could fly anyway – seems like there wasn’t any reason he was really needed to beat the bad guy at all.

However, as I said, I enjoyed it. In fact, I enjoy this version of Peter Pan far more than any other I’ve ever encountered.

Because I kinda hate Peter Pan.

Especially the Disney cartoon version.

Peter Pan has always bothered me. As the boy who wouldn’t grow up I’ve always found him to most strongly display the poorer aspect of children. He’s petulant, self-centered and generally a little jack-ass. Peter Pan I can do without.

The peter of Pan however, is a very likable kid who has very understandable fears and acts truly heroically despite them. In pretty much every way this is a story I can enjoy. And the funny thing is, it makes me hate the more traditional versions of Peter Pan even more.

Cause here’s the thing – if this were really a prequel to the Peter Pan story we’ve all grown up with for over a century, well, then Peter Pan is a terrible tragedy. There is no universe in which I want to see this boy Peter and his friend James Hook who each risked their lives to save the other on more than one occasion come to hate each other. To see this Peter be the Peter Pan who would cut off his friend Hook’s hand? This Hook become a bitter, selfish, monster who would try to kill both Tiger Lilly and his young friend? No thank you.

Which is what really got me thinking. If Pan really is a prequel to Peter Pan, then there is only one inescapable truth I can come to: Neverland is an insidiously poisonous land that eventually warps and twists all those who have the misfortune to stay there too long. It is a place that magnifies the worst in its visitors’ natures, to the point of drowning out all else.

The Peter Pan versions of Peter and Hook are people whose worst qualities have come to dominate their personalities. Even this Peter’s desperate search for his mother has become twisted in his future self to a self-centered desire to have any mother who will fill his imagined role that he was unfairly denied. The peter of Pan, whose missing mother arc is completely resolved would never need that. Unless he’d stayed too long in the evil Neverland and those old hurts had twisted and grown inside him to, snuffing out the peace he’d previously found?

The Hook of Pan might want to be selfish and always put himself first, but he can’t help but risk himself time and again to help and save his young friend. Indeed, he showed kindness to Peter before there was even a twinkling of anything in it for himself, because at heart he is a good, or at least compassionate person. Sometimes, yes, in-spite of what he probably considers his better judgement. Had, at the end, he left Neverland like he wanted to he’d have probably stayed, at worst, an archetypal lovable rogue. Instead his continued life in Neverland, the place where no one grows up, clearly eventually magnifies his selfishness and grown-up bitterness to the point where they utterly kill off his better qualities.

One can only wonder what kind of a person Blackbeard, who is a very old man keeping his youth and vigor through the the regular inhaling of pixie dust crystals, was before an overstay in Neverland corrupted him. Because lining up Pan and Peter Pan that’s the least tragic conclusion I can come too: Given enough time, the absolute wonder of Neverland corrupts absolutely.

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