Like the rest of the world, I too have been mourning the untimely and tragic death of supernova comedian Robin Williams. My Facebook newsfeed has been blossoming with tributes, some annoying, others delightful. As the week comes to an end, I’ve found myself remembering more and more of his work, the breadth of his career mushrooming in my mind. I’ve written about Robin before in this column, most recently for his beautiful work in the quirky 90s film, Toys. I also briefly mentioned him in my review of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen as the detachable-headed King of the Moon, a role for which he was not credited and yet stole the show. There are many movies I could write about today: Jumanji, One Hour Photo, Patch Adams, or Death to Smoochy. None of these films became true classics in their genre, and yet all of them are memorable because of him. But, today I’m going to write about my favorite Robin Williams film: Hook.
The Peter Pan story had been told a multitude of times prior to the making of Hook. There had been live-action films, the Disney animated classic, stage productions, and even television specials. Was that reason it didn’t do well financially? Why Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 32%? Its critics sight an overabundance of sentiment and schlock. You know what I say to those critics? Who the hell cares? Hook is a brilliant film. Yes, it’s syrupy at times, but only in the best, most memorable ways possible. The greater themes of the movie—courage, self-discovery, the importance of family—all rise above any and all overly-sentimental traps throughout the film. And the only reason the film works, the only reason we can look past all that cloying storytelling, is Robin Williams.
As Peter, the overworked father being forced to holiday in England with his rambunctious family, Robin puts his inner demons to work. We see the darkness under the clown. He is angry and lashes out as his wife and children. On his face, from one moment to the next, can be seen rage, guilt, and disappointment, each expertly expressed by an acting master. He’s so convincing as the angry father that the transformation he’s about to undertake is even that much more powerful.
Once in London, he and his family stay with Wendy, the woman who raised him from childhood. Wendy is portrayed by the eternal Maggie Smith. Her fragile strength is disarming. When she tells Peter the truth of his identity, their chemistry is crackling. And why does she tell him who he really is? Well, Captain Hook (played by Dustin Hoffman) has kidnapped Peter’s children and demands Peter go back to Neverland to rescue them.
What follows is the journey we all must take. As an adult, Peter has forgotten who he is. He no longer sees the joy and fun in life, having forgotten how to play and use his imagination. Upon returning to Neverland, Peter becomes the classic skeptic, disbelieving everything. Having been ruled by a kid named Rufio since he left, the Lost Boys have been running wild without leadership, hoping that Peter would someday return. When he does, they can’t really believe it. In the movies first truly heart-wrenching scene, only one boy believes Peter is truly Peter Pan. He makes Peter kneel down and starts rubbing his face, searching for some proof that the ageing, stressed-out man before them is the great Peter Pan.
Sometimes, it takes the wisdom of an innocent heart to see who we truly are. As adults, we pour ourselves into our own children, our relationships, our jobs. But who are we? Did we forget how to play or what used to bring us joy? Let the child in you search your tired, caffeinated face for the eternal youth within. Robin is so vulnerable in this scene, allowing the young actor to reach into his soul. I often think the reason this film never did as well as it should have was because so many of us are discomforted by the idea of looking that closely at ourselves. Maybe what we’re witnessing in the above scene is too raw, too real for the average bro or chick to handle.
One of the other truly powerful scenes in Hook is the dinner scene. Once Peter has begun his training, he is exhausted. Swinging around trees isn’t as easy as it used to be. He sits down, ready for a huge meal, only to discover there’s no food in the steaming pots. It takes a game of insulting one another, of believing, to make the food appear.
These two scenes embody the theme of self-discovery in Hook. They show us that belief reminds us of who we truly are. And its this discovery that allows Peter the strength and courage to face his fears and rescue his children.
As we all now know, Robin wasn’t able to rescue himself. Perhaps he forgot the lessons Hook taught us all. Perhaps he forgot that in another world he would never age and adventure would always be just over the next hill. Maybe that’s where he went. I don’t know what demons possessed Robin, but I can tell you that even though they took his life, they have not won. As the fans have shown us in the last week, all of us still believe. Robin may have stopped believing in himself, but we will never stop believing in him.
When he finally takes ownership of whom he truly is, nothing can stop Peter from rescuing his children. He fights hook and wins. He delegates power and leaves the Lost Boys in able, kind hands. Still an adult, yet always a child, once the day is saved, he knows he must go back to the real world. He has a life there, a family and a job. But, after his adventures in Neverland, he is not the same. He is a man filled with love and hope, magic and belief. This is when we get to see Robin at his most energetic, crawling into Nana’s doghouse, making snow angels, and jumping onto window ledges. The family reunited, the film ends with Uncle Tootles flying around Big Ben.
Each of us has our own journey to take, our own revelations and self-discoveries to unearth. Let Hook be your starting and ending point for this journey. Let the magic of Robin’s acting show you how to feel. Let it allow you the space to cry and laugh, jump and play. Let the genius Robin Williams left behind remind you that even though we’ve all lost a friend, we still have his work, and that all it takes is one happy thought to fly.