As a lover of period dramas there are countless that I adore, but few have managed to eclipse my love affair with the 2002 film, Tuck Everlasting. I love absolutely everything about this story. From the beautiful costumes, to Winnie’s stunning Victorian house, to the cozy “Tuck” home and the breathtaking scenes of nature, this film is mesmerizingly gorgeous. A coming of age story with a fantastic twist, it tells the story of young Winnifred “Winnie” Foster, played by Alexis Bledel, a young girl on the cusp of womanhood. Stifled by her prim and proper life, and desperate to avoid being sent to boarding school, she flees into the woods near her home. Tired, and thirsty, she encounters a spring of water, but when she stoops to take a drink, she is prevented by a young man named Jesse Tuck, and before she knows it, she becomes entangled in an adventure bigger than she ever believed possible. Taken hostage, and then into the confidence of the Tucks, she soon learns that they possess a wondrous secret: they are immortal and can never age or die. Winnie is then faced with a difficult choice. Will she drink from the spring and stay young forever, or remain mortal and risk losing the boy she has begun to love?
This movie has so many magical moments! Idyllic scenes follows idyllic scene, creating an enchanting world filled with fields shot with sunlight, waterfalls that descend into beautiful cascades before flowing into gurgling eddies, and bonfires in the woods with sparks so bright they rise up like fireflies into the night sky. Though the film is based on Natalie Babbitt’s middle-grade novel of the same name, the 2002 film version to me feels more “grown up,” making it one of the few instances where I preferred the movie to the book. By aging up Winnie, I believe it makes her struggles with more “mature” topics such as death and dying hit home much harder, as well as the very real fear of loss, since Jesse and Winnie in the film actually have the potential to have a true romantic relationship. By making Winnie’s choices that much harder, the story comes into its own, and becomes a true coming of age narrative.
The film also tackles some of the underlying social and gender issues of the time period and expands on them. Winnie, though on the outset seems to lead a very privileged life, feels like because of her gender she has few choices. Though it might appear Winnie is simply trying to run away from adulthood when she escapes into the forest, the film makes it clear that it is instead the expectations of adult womanhood being placed upon her that she is rejecting. An example of this is the scene where we see Winnie being forced into a corset and the strings tightened, restricting her movement, illustrating how she feels inhibited by her life. This feeling of oppression that she feels in her own home becomes a stark contrast to a complimentary scene in the Tuck house later in the film, where Jesse’s mother helps her to loosen, and then dispose of the corset, essentially “freeing” her symbolically.
Despite being based on a children’s book, I have always felt this film has such a deep and meaningful message about love and life. Who has not imagined what it would be like to live forever? And who has not dreamed what it would be like to have an everlasting love? One of my absolute favorites scenes is when Jesse’s father takes Winnie out rowing on the lake. While there, they discuss how though being immortal seems like a gift, it can also be a curse, and that to exist indefinitely is unnatural and upsets the balance of life. Existing is not the same as living. It also raises the question of what is true freedom, the thing that Winnie so desperately craves. Is the life the Tucks lead truly free? Or are they trapped forever frozen in time? Does Winnie want immortality? Or is she just missing the ability to make her own choices? These are just a few of the thought provoking questions this film raises.
At its outset, this story may seem little more than a simple fable. A girl runs into the woods because her parents have threatened to send her to boarding school. But it is so much more than the fear of school that sends her flying. What Winnie wants more than anything is not to escape from the world, but the prescriptive role she believes she will be forced to play in order to exist in it. Her flight is not the behavior of a willful child, but instead serves as a transition for her between childhood and adulthood. Winnie enters the woods seeking liberation for herself, and finds it, though perhaps not in the way she expected. Jesse may be Winnie’s first love, but he is also the person who teaches her to love herself.
This movie is one that will always stay with me. It is a perfect example of the power of stories, and proves that even those that appear deceptively simple, still have much to be gleaned from that is valuable, including perhaps the most important lesson of all:
“You don’t have to live forever. You just have to live.”
Have you seen this lovely film or read the novel? If you have I’d love to hear about it!