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  • Robert Bly Does Peter Pan: The Inner Child as Father to the Man in Steven Spielberg’s Hook
  • Patricia Pace (bio)

As early as 1984, critics and media-watchers dubbed Steven Spielberg “the perennial Peter Pan,” cinema’s ur-child who will not grow up, gifted with a child’s eye and child-like wonder, or, alternately, the worldly movie mogul driven to reproduce, compulsively, in film after film, an unresolved Oedipal conflict. 1 There is reason to believe that Spielberg consciously manipulates these opposing images, recognizing himself in the protean boy-child as well as in Pan’s wily alter-ego, Captain Hook: the pirate/businessman, the counterfeit father, distinguished by his sinister signature, his iron claw. I agree with Marjorie Garber that the story of Hook is “the dark dream narrative” (179) behind Barrie’s fairy story, and Captain Hook is also a version of the shadowy father who has had such significance in Spielberg’s enormously popular films, and thus, in our own cultural Imaginary. 2 Drawing on the works of Freud, Lacan, and others, this essay reads Spielberg’s imitation of Peter Pan as a contemporary fantasy which pretends to celebrate childhood, but instead, uses the image of the child to recuperate a longed-for, if mythic, masculine authority.

It is not far-fetched to say that Lucas/Spielberg films of the Seventies (the Star Wars trilogy and the Raiders series 3 initiate a deluge of boy-films culminating in the early 1990’s with the elaborate masculine psychodramas Dick Tracy, Batman, Robin Hood, and even the blockbuster, Dances With Wolves. Each, of course, features a male hero, and works to construct a vision of social reality in which “males appropriately dominate[] the public sphere” (Ryan and Kellner 77). Not only are these films nostalgic for genres gone-by (the western or the cliff-hanger); most of them are [End Page 113] literally remakes, situated in some anxious proximity to an “original” text, director, or leading man. In their masculine role-playing (cowboy soldier or Robin Hood), and in their derivative commodity form, these films implicate masculinity as perpetual adolescence—that liminal zone first described by G. Stanley Hall as “the passionate stage of life,” a time of “moral idealism” and “intense emotionally.” 4 Note that the qualities of idealism and emotion are traditionally assigned to women; the psychological or cultural “work” these films do is to attempt to reconcile the childishness and effeminacy of the idealistic son, with the virility and power of the father. For Spielberg in particular, the conflict between emotionality, empathy, idealism (associated with the feminine and the private sphere), and the mythic individualism central to patriarchal public man, finds its imaginative locus in the contemporary family.

Distinct from those filmmakers who project masculine fantasies of aggression and violence, Spielberg’s particular vision, as Ryan and Kellner note, emphasizes “the family as an embattled sphere . . . threatened by . . . the state, bureaucracy, science, rationalism, and capitalist greed” (259). The recurrent theme of “the child searching for his parents” (Gordon 211), replicated in various “origin” stories from E.T. to Close Encounters to Empire of the Sun, can be read as a liberal allegory, the quest for the good father, “indicative of the extent to which the public world [has] been purged of empathy, feeling, and community” (Ryan and Kellner 262). His is a narrative of transcendence, which moves to bind the public and the private worlds, the life of the individual to the larger mystery and meaning of the cosmos. However, in his evocation of the self as a metaphoric child and his reification of the lost but exalted father, Spielberg participates in and perpetuates ideological moves which privilege myth over history and personal liberation over social transformation, resulting in the contemporary consciousness Robert Bellah has explored in his work, Habits of the Heart.

Indeed, Spielberg’s Hook follows a chronology of events not unlike the series of “awakenings” detailed in the books of the Jungian men’s movement, and most often associated with Robert Bly, James Hillman, and John Rowan. This branch of the men’s movement may be distinguished from academic feminist and gender studies by its similarities to the growing self...

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pp. 113-120
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