Thursday, March 3, 2011

Peter Pan & Love

And old paper I wrote in a morning.


“Where do you live?”
“Second to the right and then straight on till morning.”
“They put that on the letters?”
“Don't get any letters.”
“But your mother gets letters.”
“Don't have a mother.”
“No wonder you were crying.”
“I wasn't crying about mothers.”

            In the 2003 live-action film of Peter Pan, a land of fantasy, wonder, and imagination is created. The audience can see childhood fantasies played out through every minute spent in Neverland, from the whoops and cries of the Native Americans to the mystery of the mermaids to the cruelty of the pirates. In such a lighthearted plot, the main character, Peter Pan, struggles and toils with the most universal theme of life, love.

            Peter Pan does not lack the ability to love, just the understanding of what it is and how express it. This is revealed in a scene in which Wendy, a girl he has brought to Neverland from her classic London home, tries to express her feelings for Peter and see if the attraction is mutual.

Wendy: Peter, what are your real feelings?
Peter: Feelings?
Wendy: What do you feel? Happiness? Sadness? Jealousy?
Peter: Jealousy? Tink!
Wendy: Anger?
Peter: Anger. Hook.
Wendy: Love?
Peter: Love?
Wendy: Love.
Peter: I have never heard of it.
Wendy: I think you have, Peter. I daresay you've felt it yourself... for something or... someone.
Peter: Never. Even the sound of it offends me.

            How could someone so full of life miss out on comprehending something as simple, yet deep, as love? Peter’s upbringing was nothing like Wendy’s and not just because he lived in Neverland. Peter Pan has no mother. He was born with one, and he knows that, but at a young age he ran away. Even with the pride he takes in his actions, he hints at a desire to have a mother. His idea of a mother is shallow in contrast to the character of Mary Darling, Wendy’s own mother. Peter projects that a mother is a women who fulfils the duties of telling stories and distributing medicine. As the audience, we can see that the psychological handicap that Peter Pan has has as a direct correlation to him being motherless. He is incapable of expressing deeper emotions of love and being aware of them. There are other symptoms as well, such as disorganization and forgetfulness that he makes up for with his zeal and physical capabilities used to protect himself, yet his lack of expression has no benefits that can be seen. Love is a motive that drives people forward, it fuels actions. Love creates a purpose.

            When others reach out, like Wendy, to express their love to him, Peter recoils. Perhaps the thought of letting himself become too dependent upon someone frightens him. He is even oblivious to the affection Tinker Bell, his fairy, shows him. Tinker Bell doesn’t refrain from showing her disgust for Wendy when she and Peter pretend they are married. Peter isn’t hesitant to acknowledge that she’s jealous, yet he does not identify the motives behind the jealousy. He ignores the deeper feelings of love, infatuation, or attraction she has for him. Peter can relate to feelings of jealousy and anger and associate them with other characters, as seen in the second quote. While those emotions can be powerful, in totallity they are shallow and one sided. Love requires one to think beyond one’s own self and well being. Love asks for someone to reciprocate the same feelings just as Wendy demonstrated when she asked Peter of his feelings.
            During childhood, it is the role of the mother to teach the strong emotions of love to the child through example and thousands of hours of conditioning. It is tacit and rarely explained other than through the exchanging of  I-love-you’s. Had Peter been raised with a mother, would he have understood that which is said to be one of the greatest things of all? It is very probable. Peter is not incapable of loving, merely challenged in expressing and recognizing it. He expresses love for Tinker Bell, as she nearly perishes, with tears and cries. But even then, he doesn’t see it as love but as regret when she is gone and joy when she returns. Even after he kisses Wendy, or gives her a “thimble” as he calls it, on the pirate ship and turns pink, he doesn’t know the word for what he is feeling. “This belongs to you and always will,” he says as he kisses her. With the kiss, Peter is expressing his love in a primitive way, physically. Immediately after the kiss, he turns to Hook and exclaims, “You are old!” In the moment in which he acknowledged his feelings for Wendy, he used the energy he received from that to fuel on his hate and need of revenge for Hook. In that moment, though, Peter not only revealed his feelings to Wendy, he let the audience see a glimpse of his capability to love. He might not have understood his feelings or where they came from, but on an impulse he followed them.

            It is not surprising that a timeless film like Peter Pan would have a character as simple and carefree as Peter unconsciously struggle with love. Love is universal and taught at a young age, yet Peter shows the audience what can happen when a child is never taught what is love and how to love someone else. He demonstrates that to love is natural and of human nature, but to be able to understand, express, and acknowledge it takes conditioning from some sort of mother-figure. Conflicts like these add an even greater element of wonder to the film beyond mermaids and pirates. Peter Pan is no longer just the boy who wouldn’t grow up, he is the boy who was never taught about love.

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