The enchantment of childhood is that there’s no line between fantasy and reality. The classic bedtime stories, pretending the floor is lava and seeing an endless opportunity for career paths is what make the child’s brain so fascinating. Nevertheless, out of all the popular children’s fairy tales, Peter Pan has had a lasting effect. The story of the boy who never grew up alongside pirates and mermaids is a tale that endures with adults today. However, the allure of Peter Pan wasn’t just the adventurous boy who had a fairy by his side. It was also Wendy Darling.
Wendy Darling was the voice of reason amongst her male peers. She was the mother figure of the childish gang, and she also made the final call to return to the real world. While there have been countless film adaptations of Peter Pan, “The Lost Girls” is an ambitious continuation of the Peter Pan tale that focuses on the generations of women after Wendy Darling who is still affected by the presence of Peter Pan’s Neverland.
“The Lost Girls” focuses on the tumultuous life of Wendy Darling’s granddaughter, also named Wendy Darling (Livia De Paolis). Wendy is raised by her father (Julian Ovenden) and occasionally visits her grandmother (Vanessa Redgrave) in her nursing home. Her life is destined to circle the mystique of Peter Pan because her grandmother promises her she’ll not only meet Peter Pan, but will be taken on the same adventures her grandmother and mother had the chance to experience. The missing piece to young Wendy’s life is her mother Jane (Joely Richardson), who disappeared when Wendy was just a baby. Jane’s whereabouts are ambiguous and it remains the unspoken grief of Wendy’s father that pushes him to homeschool Wendy.
Although she’s a lonely child, Wendy’s father fills her head with classic fairy tales, prompting her to develop impeccable writing skills. Still, Wendy’s life is a mirage. She grows up taunted by her expectation of Peter and is out of touch with reality. Eventually, at twelve, Wendy is visited by Peter Pan (Louis Patridge) in what appears to be a dream. The meeting is very similar to the original story of Peter meeting Wendy; he crashes into the room and is trying to catch his shadow. A major distinction is this Peter is modernized with green khakis, and Converse shoes and hands her a peach. Wendy manages to levitate in her room and flies out of her window right behind Peter. They land in a field of purple poppies and Peter makes her promise she’ll never grow up.
Wendy is then taken through a series of familiar Neverland traditions. She wanders in an enchanted forest, swims in a lake and of course meets Captain Hook (Iain Glen). She’s then guided into a lair as Captain Hook invites her to waltz. Wendy is repulsed by Captain Hook and escapes up a ladder where she sees a hallucination of her mother, Jane. Jane’s face fades away, and she sees Peter again who begs her not to grow up. Suddenly, Wendy jolts awake and finds the same peach Peter gave her behind her pillow.
With her belief in Peter Pan solidified, Wendy grows up awaiting the next time she sees Peter. Sadly, Wendy never quite meets him again. Instead, she ages with the same child-like dreams. In her mid-twenties, she meets her soon-to-be husband, Adam (Parker Sawyers), and they begin a complicated relationship. Adam loves Wendy dearly but finds it hard to connect with her because of her Neverland antics.
The pair marry once Wendy becomes pregnant and Wendy continues the cycle of raising a daughter. The difference between Wendy Darling and her daughter Berry (Ella-Rae Smith) is that Berry grows to resent Wendy’s talk of Peter Pan and Neverland. The film concludes with Wendy piecing together what Neverland and Peter Pan represent: a continuous cycle of uncertainty where fantasy and reality are blurred. Berry admits to meeting Peter Pan and explains her interpretation of Peter, an experience that finally connects her to Wendy.
Peter Pan has many interpretations that lean on themes of abuse, neglect and even gender roles. The 2004 “Peter Pan” adaptation is most known for its fantastical storytelling and depiction of Neverland, but Wendy Darling’s character bears the burden of maturity. She understands there’s no life in Neverland and eventually returns to London with her two brothers. “The Lost Girls” shows another side of the original Wendy Darling. She’s now an elderly woman with gray hair who speaks in riddles.
The older Wendy is noticeably skittish and out of touch with reality. Wendy’s infatuation with Peter Pan manifested into her raising her daughter Jane to confuse fantasy with reality. Eventually, Jane became so lost in the delusion of Neverland that she chose to leave her life behind. The original Wendy’s wisdom seems to have skipped the next two generations of girls, as both were trapped in their illusions. What was supposed to be a fantasy bedtime story created a curse that kept both Jane and Wendy waiting for their fictional Peter?
The delusions Wendy grew up with followed her throughout her life, which could explain why the dialogue in the film felt theatrical and out of place. Wendy physically is an adult but her mannerisms and speech keep her in a constant state of childhood. Realistically, Jane and Wendy could be suffering from severe mental illness or simply are products of trying to escape gender roles. Childhood for Wendy was safe because it connected her to Peter Pan and the potential to escape to a lush world. Wendy’s grief with aging could be connected to Peter Pan abandoning her because she aged, pointing back to the heavy symbolism of oppressive gender roles that the original story possessed.
The interesting part about Peter Pan in “The Lost Girls” is he’s a different version for each woman. Compared to the sweet and endearing Peter the older women met, Berry’s Peter Pan was combative and challenged her interests, leading Berry to question what role Peter would have in her life. Although the film makes it difficult to distinguish fact from fantasy, it does at least hint at Peter Pan and Neverland being symbolic of growing up.
“The Lost Girls” feeds into the confusion that most children will have when they age: are the stories real or fake? The film is a manifestation of what life could be like for the adults who get trapped in fantasy illusion, as well as the horror that many women face with oppressive societal expectations. The greatest lie fed to many girls is that youth is the only time one can be free and beautiful. The film ends with Wendy confessing that living and growing older is what requires more imagination, rather than remaining a child forever.
‘The Lost Girls’ is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.
By Adia Carter