There have been many incarnations of James Barrie’s ageless imp, Peter Pan — 100 years’ worth, to be exact. Peter’s playground has found equal footing in our cultural psyche. “Finding Neverland,” 2004’s critically acclaimed film, is the latest incarnation.
Barrie’s Neverland is an island one can reach by flying towards the “second star to the right, and straight on ’till morning.” It is a place without chores, nagging parents and dietary restrictions — a perpetual summer vacation. Neverland has become synonymous with youth, a metaphor for eternal childhood and immortality.
The concept of Neverland embeds itself in the human species; we cannot escape it or its equivalents. Barrie’s was but a reworking of an age-old theme. Whether it’s called Shangri-la, Utopia, Nirvana or Heaven, we spend considerable amounts of energy trying to, at least, reach the outskirts of this magical place.
But getting there is the hard part. If only it were as easy as flying “straight on till morning.”
Psychologists have suggested that the two most powerful instincts in human beings are for religion and sex. This may explain why, when people turn from religion, they often turn to sex. Author, John Updike, was once asked how he reconciled the religious themes of his books with his frank treatments of sex. Updike responded that he saw no discrepancy. In fact, he said, “People go to church because they want to live forever. People go to bed because they want to feel what it’s like.”
Don’t tell this to the horn-dog grinding away on the dance floor till 2 AM. Heaven is the farthest thing from his mind. Yet, behind all his pursuits for pleasure, is a nagging desire for something lasting . . . an eternal, intoxicating weekend.
No wonder we live in a society of addictions: food addictions, chemical addictions, behavioral addictions, etc. What starts as a pleasurable experience descends into bondage. We return to what first gave us joy, only to find our endorphins bored. At the root of all addictions is a desire for something the addictive element cannot satisfy. C.S Lewis said, “What does not satisfy when we find it, was not the thing we were desiring.” Nothing in this world satisfies because our deepest desires are for something outside of this world.
Maybe this is why we’re so restless.
In all our pursuits for pleasure, there is an underlying desire for One Lasting Pleasure — a love story without end, a golden sun that never sets, a far-off country without death and dying. Call it what you will, but this is what drives us.
We go to the movies for the same reasons we have sex. We read and travel and hang prints of masterpiece oils on our walls, because we want a glimpse of Neverland.
All we need is someone to point us toward the right star.