Steven Spielberg’s Hook about a grown-up Peter Pan rediscovering his inner child is the epitome of a good Christmas movie to me.
We love to categorize things. A ‘this’ movie, a ‘that’ movie. The “debate” about whether Die Hard is or is not a Christmas movie has been raging for years, with people on the internet hilariously invested in the majority ruling.
Well, I’m just going to sit quietly in a corner and enjoy my own favorite Christmas movie, Steven Spielberg’s Hook. (Closely followed by Bridget Jones.)
I’m not American, so “Hallmark” means nothing to me, but I do understand the basic concept of a Christmas movie. A movie that takes place around Christmas and centers around the values usually associated with the holiday; everything from Elf and The Santa Clause, full of Santa Clauses and actual magic, to Home Alone, which is really just about a child’s hi-jinks and a family coming together.
Well, if Home Alone can be a Christmas movie, Hook sure can too, seeing as the main qualifier is “something heartwarming happens at Christmas.”
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Maggie Smith and the late Robin Williams, the 90s family film tells the story of an adult Peter Pan, grown up in every boring way, married with children for whom he sees childhood as a burden.
They travel to London in December to visit their ‘grandmother’ Wendy, and in this old Darling house, Captain Hook descends to kidnap Peter’s children and force the big battle he was denied all those years ago.
Tinkerbell follows to summon Peter, who goes to Neverland to rescue his kids — rescuing his own soul in the process. He remembers who he used to be, and, more importantly, what childhood is supposed to be about. He also realizes that you don’t have to abandon those values as an adult unless you choose to.
Peter reconnects with his children and returns to reality — and Christmas, the most child-friendly and therefore most potent time of year — with the spark of life that he’d squashed out of himself when he began to grow up.
What Spielberg captures in Hook, and what makes it so much more than a cheesy adventure flick, is the absurd distinction we try to draw between childhood and adulthood. Peter Pan viewed adults as the ultimate monsters (hence his arch-enemy being a middle-aged man, in many versions played by the same actor as Wendy’s father), and his biggest fear was turning into one himself — not an adult, exactly, but his horror-image of one.
But when he left Neverland, that’s what he believed he had to do. Like all adolescents putting away ‘childish things’ for clothes, hobbies and goals they believe society requires them to have; like all young adults setting down their paint brushes or musical instruments or pencils because they have to make room for ‘serious’ pursuits, Peter closed himself off to childhood because he fully lived himself into his latest and greatest game of make-believe, method acting his way through his inner child’s version of what an adult should be.
What Hook teaches us is that this is an unnecessary restriction to impose on yourself, and can even be harmful to the psyche. It illustrates exactly how ‘child’ and ‘adult’ are man-made and ever-redefined categories we impose upon ourselves, and that young Peter’s fears were unfounded.
‘Childhood’ and ‘adulthood’ are just life stages; we’re the ones that impose values on them, for ourselves and others: what we should or shouldn’t be, what we should or shouldn’t enjoy. After all, Wendy is older than Peter, but she’s not the one that needs saving. Neither is Peter’s wife Moira. The only reason Peter’s nightmare about adulthood came true was because he made it so; he made himself the thing he feared and made himself forget his true self.
But he escapes the nightmare. Not by transforming back into a child, because it was never about physically being a child, it was about the values Peter associated with it. He saves himself by remembering those values. He also finds a link to his own past through his son, and his son learns to see his father not as a scary abstract ‘adult’ but as family: someone and something accessible to him.
And what is Christmas but a ritual of remembrance, of lights and colors and presents and ‘toys’ decorating every space, of creative pursuits like folding paper hearts and concocting fancy cakes or desserts, presents, family, talking about your shared past and cementing your relationships to your loved ones?
For many people, for me, Christmas is a window into that which I might be at danger of forgetting, a Neverland of its own. Whatever we call it, the party of lights to ward off the cold and dark around the winter solstice has been around since the dawn of time; this innate human desire to create a bubble of happiness that reminds us of brighter days past (and still to come).
That is Hook to me. Hook is Christmas, or rather, what it could or should be. It’s for children, sure, except ‘children’ in this context means all of us. We don’t have to be afraid of it, or feel like it’s not ‘for’ us.
Robin Williams’ Peter Pan embodies the version of adulthood we all worried we’d one day turn into, as though the child- and adult-versions of yourself are (or should be) two separate entities rather than different stages of the same soul. Peter is trapped not by adulthood, but by what he thinks that means, and what saves him is the discovery that it is just another costume, another role he’s playing — one which he can escape any time.
Peter saves his children not just literally, but by remembering his own childhood, by remembering the value in joy and play and silliness. By letting them be children. In Hook, the scary thing isn’t ‘growing up,’ but rather what we ourselves layer into those words. Hook lifts the veil, exposes the self-deception, and lets Peter find his joy. Neverland is a metaphor, but Peter himself is very, very real.
That it happens at Christmas is symbolic, associating the values of family, childhood, imagination and play with both. For many people, Christmas might be the time when they let their own joy and sentimentality shine through. You can’t help but smile at the lights, the colors, the joy on children’s faces.
Hook embodies the holiday season for me, and what I think it is all about. This is what I see when I look at a Christmas tree, what I let myself feel around this time of year, even if I feel like I have to put it away at other times. It is what I hope to never lose.