Peter Pan—A nostalgic childhood classic that, on the surface, seems to have nothing in common with the gritty story in Tigers Are Not Afraid. But the two might actually be thematically closer than we assume…
Beloved Feel-Good Tale
For those of you unfamiliar with Peter Pan and his magical adventures, here’s the quick SparkNotes rundown: The titular Peter, a whimsical and magical boy who can never grow old, bands together a group of children to join him on his escape to Neverland. There, they remain immortal children forever.
Perhaps, during our childhood viewings, this was nothing more than a heartwarming and otherwise dime-a-dozen story of not wanting to grow up (something we could definitely relate to). But like many things in life, the onset of adulthood manages to steamroll across this innocent vision, ruining any preconceived notions we might have.
Here is where the tale gets darker: If Neverland is a place where children never grow old, is that really by choice?
In Neverland, the children might experience momentary bliss, but that all changes the moment they grow past a certain age.
“The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out; but at this time there were six of them, counting the twins as two. Let us pretend to lie here among the sugar-cane and watch them as they steal by in single file, each with his hand on his dagger,” writes J.M. Barrie in the 1904 novel.
We don’t know about you, but it’s hard to not read that as the children having been forced to meet their untimely demise before they taint the sanctity of the mystical land.
If that doesn’t convince you, here’s another myth that Peter Pan wholeheartedly believes in: “Every time you breathe, a grown-up dies”. And boy, did he take one too many. Peter Pan must have really hated adults with a passion! He’s not even angry with them—just fueled by a twisted desire for children to never become adults. Whether there was consent…we can only imagine.
You might ask: What does the tale of Peter Pan and Neverland have to do with anything?
Counterpoint: What if Neverland does exist on Earth? Heck, it might even still exist today.
Echoes of Peter Pan
One of our lost boys vandalising a wall with a symbol of courage: A tiger
In the dystopian setting of director Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid, the film takes inspiration from real-life events in 2006 Mexico, when the war between drug cartels reached its peak.
Hundreds and thousands of people went missing. These statistics account for adults, but for children? Many of them are unaccounted for..
In the film’s sinister mix of magic realism and violence, it’s hard not to draw obvious parallels to the darker side of Peter Pan.
An adorable stuffed tiger comes to life to aid the children
Tigers Are Not Afraid, coincidentally, centres around a group of young children. Magic pushes the narrative along—chalks grant the children’s deepest wishes, a talking stuffed tiger comes to life, and the children constantly dream up scenarios as an escape from reality.
Consistently juxtaposed with these fantastical scenes is the bitter truth of reality.
Another lost boy caged in an unfortunate situation
Children wield firearms to protect themselves against the horrific danger that adults pose, sometimes committing unintentional and uncharacteristic acts of violence, while also rejoicing over an adult’s death. Peter Pan, is that you?
Can we blame them when adults have taken so much from these children? No proper place to learn and grow up. No proper place to imagine and play. They are children in stature, but their experiences render them hardened veterans. In the film, as their childlike characteristics occasionally peek out, it becomes obvious that they’ve been unwittingly conditioned to this extreme fight or flight response.
Bloodshed and haunting spectres constantly trail the children in their waking hours. These could be the guilt of their actions finally catching up to them: lost lives, lost dreams and lost childhood.
In a dystopian society such as 2006 Mexico, if children didn’t fight against all that threatens them, some would be captured and caged up, and most…will never grow up.
Children drawn on the wall with…somber expressions
An Escape into Reality
Films often offer us a sense of comfort, letting us run away from it all and forget about our own lives for an hour or two. Think about the latest horror release at your local cinema, it’s most likely to be packed to the brim with ardent moviegoers. Films tend to have this transportive nature to them, even at its most horrific, whether fictional or based in reality.
However, what we tend to forget is that: reality is, more often than not, the muse of fiction.
While we would like to think that the myriad of dark theories that haunt our childhood stories are nothing more than that—just theories, there’s more that meets the eye. More often than not, reality tells a different, far more harrowing story. Films are not always an avenue for escape, they are a portrayal of reality that many tend to turn a blind eye to. So much for faith, trust, and pixie dust.