‘Hook’ Is Perfect For Anyone Slowly Sliding Into Middle Age
The most insufferable colloquialism of the past ten years or so was the transformation of the noun ‘adult’ into a whiny verb.
To be an adult is to be a fully-grown human being who has successfully exited childhood and entered the rest of life, a journey full of wonder and sorrow, toil and discovery. Children are miracles, even the loud and the snot-covered ones; they are wise in a way that is too easily forgotten as you age.
But maturing into an adult who is curious and kind, who faces loss, and loves courageously, is the point. The meaning of life. Right? For millions of young Americans, adulting was what you called all that boring stuff that your parents do. It was a way of mocking responsibility and all the tiny mundane moments you will one day miss more than anything.
But now that generation is sliding towards middle age. These so-called Millennials are staring into the abyss of chronic back pain, endless work meetings, and Roth IRA contributions. Their beloved verb “adult” has turned back into a boring ol’ noun.
It’s tough getting older. I’ve been doing it for years. I’m slowly, quietly wrinkling while writing this sentence.
But the good news is, middle age is the perfect time to revisit Steven Spielberg’s infamous 1991 blockbuster Hook, his raucous, surprisingly cerebral re-telling of the classic children’s book Peter Pan. You know the one: an immortal elf boy leads a trio of Victorian waifs on an adventure to a dimension full of danger and offensive Native American stereotypes.
Hook is a fairy tale for dads who have given up on playing make-believe for no good reason. It’s also a bit of a pop culture curiosity, colorful, chaotic, and uneven, an early 90s pop culture smorgasbord of lavish sets and primitive CGI and celebrity star-power.
Spielberg is juggling a lot of tones and themes here, too many, maybe. Hook is whimsical and saccharine and melancholy, especially melancholy. Everyone, even the boy who would not grow up, grows up. See? Feel better?
If you’re struggling with the soggy swampland that is mid-life, Hook wants you to know you have options. You don’t have to be a graying worker drone if you don’t want to be. All you have to do is buy your inner child and inner-ice cream cone.
I didn’t hear that message at first, but now that I’m hurtling towards an AARP Magazine subscription, I get it. We’re all Peter Pan, dig?
The movie was marketed as a kid’s flick when it came out. And it is. The Lost Boys are a collection of diverse, obnoxious tots and moppets cast to appeal to America’s tiniest consumers. But it’s also a yuppie redemption movie, the story of grown-up, no-fun Peter Pan rescuing his children from the clutches of the title character, Captain Hook.
When we meet old Peter, he’s a stressed-out, married, corporate cog ignoring his kids. He doesn’t even know who he is or that he married the daughter of the little girl who once loved him with all her heart. (Weird!)
As Peter, Robin Williams turns in one of his most underrated performances. Jesus, he was talented. Williams was blessed with many gifts, including a guillotine-sharp wit and a racecar for a mind. In Hook, Spielberg taps Williams’s ability to summon vast quantities of pure, childlike energy and vulnerability, and enthusiasm, and when Peter finally discovers the “happy thought” that will help him soar into the clouds, Williams glows. His transformation from fussy fuddy-duddy to a joyful, silly, heroic man with a boyish twinkle in his eyes is genuinely moving. What is your “happy thought?” I don’t have an answer to that. Maybe mine is “a nice everything bagel with a shmear of lox spread?” I don’t know. Think about it, and I will too.
Julia Roberts is sad and strangely sexy as heartbroken pixie Tinkerbell, a strange figure in children’s literature, but she teaches an important lesson, I suppose, that sometimes, you can love someone who can’t love you back in the way that you want. Bob Hoskins glitters like a treasure chest of doubloons as Hook’s henchman Smee and Maggie Smith add just the right amount of gravitas as elderly Wendy.
All the kids in Hook are perfectly adequate little actors, all bright-eyed and earnest, but Dante Basco stands out as Rufio, the sneering cool kid with the cool cherry bomb red hair who replaced Pan when he decided to leave Neverland.
But Hook belongs to Hook. The flamboyant captain is played by serious-minded, Academy-Award-winning Method actor Dustin Hoffman, and the character is a worthy addition to his collection of twitchy, intense antiheroes. Hoffman’s Hook is an old man in a wig and makeup, just hanging out with the fellas and trying to relive his glory days.
Spielberg is capable of being profoundly subversive and grossly sentimental, and in Hook, these two forces are in a battle with one another, and the latter wins. Unfortunately, maybe? Peter Banning — aka Pan — is the protagonist of Hook, and yet it’s hard not to root for Hoffman’s pirate. He’s a cranky, overblown coot, but he knows who he is and what he wants, and if you’re looking for advice on how to grow older with dignity, Hook isn’t the worst role model.
Sure, he kidnaps kids and threatens to kill them. That’s bad. Absolutely. But he has fun. He has a sense of style. Captain Hook is in touch with his wants and needs and emotions, and if Hook can be Hook, you can embrace all the things that make you, you, no matter your age.
When I was dragged to see Hook, I was a full-fledged teenager, and I felt betrayed by Spielberg, who was more than just a filmmaker in the 80s, he was a cultural force who defined my childhood. He thrilled and scared me and made me openly sob in a movie theater for the first time, and I was shedding tears over a naked, hairless puppet with a glowing red finger.
But Hook wasn’t made for a snarky 17-year-old boy. It was a movie for ten-year-olds and their Baby Boomer parents. I didn’t care about either of them. At the time, I didn’t know that Hook was the future, where risk-averse entertainment executives reboot, remix, and reimagine intellectual properties. I didn’t know how good I had it back then, and I don’t think Spielberg did, either. He was just a 45-year-old making a movie about another fortysomething and working out what it means to grow up. Hook made money at the box office, but critics dismissed it. But it underperformed by Spielberg’s standards, a man who regularly churned out seismic movie hits.
And yet, that movie is still talking to us 25 years later. It’s saying: Rufio! Rufio Rufio! Hook also speaks directly to the formerly young: being an adult is hard. There are obligations and pressures and bills to pay, so many bills. But it’s never too late to be who you truly are on the inside.