Reviewed by: Ken James
Starring: Alexis Bledel, Ben Kingsley, Sissy Spacek, Amy Irving, Jonathan Jackson | Directed by: Jay Russell | Produced by: Jane Startz, Marc Abraham | Written by: Jeffrey Lieber, James V. Hart | Distributor: Walt Disney
Perpetual youth—it’s what our culture wants. Growing old is not an experience many look forward to. Why is that? Why do we hold youth, beauty and vitality as more important than age, experience and wisdom? If you could stay 30 forever, would you?
That’s just what the Tuck family has done, not by conscious decision though. In the early 19th century the Tucks—Angus (William Hurt, “A.I.”), Mae (Sissy Spacek, “Crimes of the Heart”), Miles (Scott Bairstow, “Lonesome Dove,” “The Postman”), and Jesse (Jonathan Jackson, “Insomnia”)—inadvertently drink from a small spring at the bottom of a tree while traveling. They realize something is strange from the first moment their lips touch the water… it’s like tasting heaven. When accidents take place (like falling from a high tree with no injuries, being bit by a rattler but showing no effects of the poison, fighting wars but being invincible), the Tucks know they have a secret that must be protected at all costs. It is their cross to bear. They’ve told no one outside their tight family in over a century, living as recluses in the woods on the edge of Treegap (filmed with sweeping cinematography in the Susquehanna State Park and Berlin, Maryland).
But one day teenaged Winnie Foster (Alexis Bledel, “Gilmore Girls”), trapped in a smothering life of sophistication and boredom, gets lost wandering in the woods her family owns and discovers young Jesse Tuck drinking from the spring. Panicked, the family doesn’t know what to do with Winnie, and Winnie herself isn’t sure what to think. Not yet knowing the secret, she is captivated by this simple family that takes her in. She is so drawn to them and the adventure that is an everyday part of life for perpetually 17 Jesse, she just stays on while her family, lead by father Robert Foster (Victor Garber, “Titanic”) desperately searches for her.
The two form such a close, innocent friendship and love for one another that we can’t help but long for them to be together forever. “Yes, drink of the spring” we want to say once Winnie learns of it. Yet doomed like Romeo and Juliet, we know it can never be. And the closer a mysterious tracker, The Man in the Yellow Suit (played masterfully by Sir Ben Kingsley), gets to the Tuck’s secret, the sooner we know the world will come crashing down on the Tuck’s well guarded secret. The evil Man in the Yellow Suit will stop at nothing to get what he wants: sole ownership of the Fountain of Youth, and everlasting life himself.
Now enjoyed by two generations of readers, Tuck Everlasting first came to the scene in 1975 from the mind of author Natalie Babbitt. It has been on the American Library Association’s Notable Book list for 25 years and named one of the most important children’s books of the 20th century by School Library Journal. It translates perfectly to film due in part to the painstaking perfection of Director Jay Russell (“My Dog Skip”, 2000).
There is much to love in “Tuck Everlasting”. Christian families will be delighted to know that the romance between Winnie and Jesse is pure and innocent (though there are one or two short kissing scenes). The language is clean as well, though there is one instance of “Oh My God” uttered by Winnie’s mom (Amy Irving, “Traffic”) in a time of great distress… perhaps even a true cry unto God. There is some violence, though it is never overdone and crucial to the story. And a reverent funeral scene toward the film’s conclusion speaks of Jesus Christ as the way to heaven, though it serves more as a wrapup to show that Winnie has truly learned that death is a natural part of life then any kind of overtly Christian message.
“Tuck Everlasting” is one to enjoy with the whole family (ages 8 to adult), crossing generations and captivating the adventurous spirit in each of us.
Themes to talk about with family and friends include: death and dying, the fear of death, the cycle of life as we know it, living forever, greed, aging, and simplicity of life (especially in a time when, like 1914 when this story takes place, our culture is pressing into new times of increased technological change). Be sure to study up on God’s original design for the world—one without death and disease, a time of perfection before sin entered the world. And as followers of Christ, we know that everlasting life is no fairy tale. And it’s not a secret to keep. Now go tell it on the mountain: from Treegap to Trinidad.