Back in 1991, Steven Spielberg directed a film titled Hook starring Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, Maggie Smith, and the incomparable Dustin Hoffman as Captain Jas. Hook. John Williams produced the soundtrack (to which I am currently listening). Hook provides an intriguing twist on an extremely original tale, and I submit that the title is purposefully misleading. The first line of J.M. Barrie’s book, Peter Pan, states “All children, except one, grow up.” Hook begs the question, “What if that one grew up?” Maintaining indefatigable continuity with the book, Peter (Robin Williams) comes to what we might call Reality and begins to grow old. In the way that Neverland makes one forget about Reality, Reality makes one forget about Neverland. Thus, there is a tension between the two.
The movie opens with Peter’s complete consummation by Reality. He appears as a successful lawyer who orchestrates business deals involving vasts amounts of money. Nevertheless, his drive for success marginalizes his family. On a family trip to England in order to visit “Grandma Wendy” (Maggie Smith) and after a mysterious Capt. Jas. Hook breaks into Wendy’s home to kidnap Peter’s two children, Maggie and Jack, Wendy reveals to Peter and to us who his true identity is, the Peter Pan. Of course, he finds this completely preposterous, but when Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts) appears and drags him to Neverland, he must face the reality of his forgotten childhood.
In Neverland, Captain James Hook is furious. Made clear by the film, Hook has been stewing for years over the absence of his “great and worthy opponent” Peter Pan. Now, Hook, with Peter’s kidnapped children in tow, will finally be able to launch his full out war on Peter and his lost boys. Quite naturally, Peter Banning, whom Peter Pan has grown up to be, enters Neverland completely ignorant of his lost identity. Confused by such a goofy world that is Neverland with its pirates, mermaids, and renegade, pirate-killing orphans, Peter halfheartedly attempts self-discovery for the sake of saving his children. In the meanwhile, Hook turns Peter’s son against him, and in normal Neverland fashion, Jack forgets about home. As Jack forgets, Peter remembers; except, he remembers with a twist. He remembers who he is, not because he recalls the features of Neverland, he remembers Neverland and his identity as Peter Pan because he recalls the joy he felt when he became a father. The elation and new life of childhood reignites Peter’s ability to fly and battle the incarnate evil, Captain Hook.
Before I finish telling the story, let me turn to the obvious quite obvious message behind this story. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, Hook can hardly be considered a pure kid’s movie (even though I watched it countless times as a child). Instead, Hook is a film made for parents couched in a kid’s film disguise. As adults, what once carried the excitement of newness for us as kids gives way to the mundane product of experience and recognizable repetition. Peter who once was capable of thinking imaginatively of newness, becomes bound by the restraint of what he knows. This is made ever so clear when he tries to save his children by writing Hook a check or when he cannot eat simply because he cannot imagine food. Hook, therefore, romanticizes childhood in an exciting, entertaining way. At the same time, Captain Hook reminds us that childhood does not come without difficulties.
These struggles we face as children loomed large to us then. The film humorously puts it to us in Hook and Peter’s discourse as they fight their final battle:
Peter: “I remember you being a lot bigger.”
Hook: “To a 10-year-old, I’m huge.”
Now, Peter has returned to fight off his old foe once and for all. Why? No longer can he avoid it. See, in Reality, Peter became a pirate with his corporate takeovers and hold-no-prisoners economics. What happened? He oppressed his family and his kids. As a result, his son became a pirate, merciless and tyrannical. The commentary here is explicit. As adults, we must face and fight our childhood terrors. We avoid them because we remember them being huge, but if we stave off the fight, we will become what oppressed us. Consequently, the next generation will suffer from our Hooks. Hence, the cycle is created.
Briefly, I would like to implicate the Hebrew Bible. Clearly, the authors and compilers of Genesis recognized and theologized this cycle. We can see it as the faithfulness of Abraham passes from generation to generation until Joseph. Joseph becomes imperial, and he delivers his own people into the hands of the oppressors. Notice the oddity of Jacob’s blessing upon Joseph’s two sons in Genesis 48. Why does Jacob not reach out his hands and bless Joseph in the way Jacob’s father did to him? Jacob attempts to pass on the blessing to those not yet tainted by the oppressive empire. Furthermore, this whole narrative is alluded to in the second word of the Decalogue in Exodus 20.4-6:
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I YHWH your G-d am a jealous G-d, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.“
What we see in Hook is a father’s idolization of that which is not the life-giving, creative G-d, and as a result, his children pay for it. He then confronts that which oppressed him and a child (his idol), and defeated it. It is to how he defeated it that I now turn.
Upon Peter’s self-realization in the film, the pace quickens. He forgets he is an adult, and he becomes consumed by the desires of being a young boy. Immediately, the film clarifies. Peter cannot save his kids if he believes he is a child. The narrative presents Peter with a dilemma: how does one maintain the innocence of youth and the strength that one gains through the long process of growing up to fight the very demons of that youth? Or put more metaphorically, how do we stay as big as Captain Hook yet as free as the lost boys? The film gives us three answers: creativity, community, and evil’s inoperable sustainability.
In the film, the Lost Boys are a precarious group of orphans who live under the constant threat of violence from the oppressive adult pirates. Rendered unable to go where they wish or live as they please, the Lost Boys subvert the authoritarian rule of Hook using only their imagination. Even eating requires them to utilize their imaginative power. As a result, beneath the oppressive thumb of Hook and his cronies, the Lost Boys thrive. Alas, when an adult who finally takes their side leads them in a rebellion against the oppressors, these disenfranchised orphans do not fight in shear numbers. Instead, they fight with creative tools such as tomato-flinging slingshots, a four-direction paint gun, marbles, mirrors, and an egg-gun. The plausibility of these weapons being deployed by children actually working against a contingent of armed, full-grown men is inconsequential and irrelevant. The movie is disinterested in practicality. Rather, it implies the creative efforts of the oppressed render the confidence of the powerful as a weakness. Creativity overcomes physical power.
As Peter fights Captain Hook, he receives the aid of the Lost Boys. Hook, you see, in a wonderful metaphor, fears time more than any other thing. We see this in Peter’s own life before he made it to Neverland. He frantically attempts to work and support his son by attending his baseball game which Peter tragically misses. He fights against time. Captain Hook does likewise. He finds sport in destroying clocks that tick; thus, reassuring himself that in fact time does not exist. The film clearly responds to this with the affirmation of time. When we embrace time as the conduit through which we live, we learn to actually enjoy life, the time we are given, and the people we spend it with. There is no greater example to this than when Peter fights Hook in the final battle between good and evil. As their ace in the hole, the Lost Boys pull out ticking clocks. The over-stimulation of Hook’s greatest fear paralyzes him, and the theme is driven home as he stands facing Peter in a circle of Lost Boys without any friends to help. Peter understands the strength in his friends and family. Hook, bent on vengeance, cannot allow the aid of his minimal friendships lest his revenge feel anything less than self-earned. Only through the help of others can we in fact defeat what haunts us most.
The description of that scene leads to my final point. Evil cannot sustain itself. The moral logic of oppression leads the oppressor into lonely, self-destruction. In a gut-wrenching, tear-jerking way, we see this in Rufio. Rufio is the boy who took control of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan’s absence. Dressed like a punk rocker, Rufio acquiesces to Hook’s logic. Hook hauntingly seduces Rufio into a blade-on-blade battle by slowly chanting his name right after Peter forbid Rufio from fighting the old man. Rufio is shown as a good swordsman, but clearly, he is no match for the superb Captain Hook. Rufio gives in to the promise of power that can be achieved through the death of Hook. Effectively, Rufio tries to beat Hook at his own game. Little does Rufio know, one cannot overcome evil with the tools of evil. Rufio only realizes this after Hook slays him. Dying in Peter’s arms, Rufio (and I have to hold back tears thinking about it) says to Peter in a powerful last breath, “You know what I wish. I wish I had a dad…like you.” The film drives the point home when the young Jack takes off his pirate’s hat, addresses Peter as “Dad”, and tells Peter, who still holds the dying Rufio in his arms, he wants to go home. Creative, communal love creates home; evil tempts and destroys. It cannot persist then, for it destroys that which it lures.
We see evil’s demise at the conclusion of Peter’s final (dare we say, loving) battle with his childhood foe. The sword fight builds in the very typical way that all sword battles typically do. Meanwhile, we wait for the very typical end. We wait for Peter to be given the opportunity to kill Hook, yet in his goodness refuse. Very surely, this time comes (twice actually), but Peter is rescued by the sweet innocence of his daughter. Naturally, the next action is Hook trying to kill Peter even though Peter mercifully spared his life. What we would quite expect is Peter to kill Hook, but this never happens. Instead, a twist comes. Peter, with the aid of Tinker Bell, thrusts the Captain’s hook into the belly of the crocodile who consumed Hook’s hand after Peter cut it off so many years ago. While this could simply be seen as an homage to the book, the action suggests otherwise. We see Hook stumble and stand with complete balance. He seems completely able to avoid the crocodile who has awoken from the dead. But he doesn’t. Why? Perhaps it is because Hook longs for death. Evil cannot endure forever; it cannot bear the weight of oppressing eternally. Furthermore, evil is not indestructible. Even it has fears such as time. In the end, Hook’s fear of the crocodile, his exhaustion of being vengeful, and his lost battle against time bring about his demise. Peter’s refusal to kill shows his victory, for he knows that evil will kill itself.
In the end, we see the beauty of creativity, innocence, and community. These are not weaknesses. They are strength. Unless we learn to embrace them as strength, we will continue to let Captain Hook and his violent, oppressive logic dominate every generation. However, if we learn how to embrace the time we are given to live and if we enjoy those we are given to live it with, we may well learn to defeat Hook once and for all. That is exactly what we see in Jesus’ life and most clearly in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We cannot beat the oppressors on their own terms. We can only reveal the natural demise of sin which is death. We reveal this by showing the natural way of G-d which is life, and as Peter says at the very end of the film, “To live… to live would be an awfully big adventure.”