Tuck Everlasting (2002)

4 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Don’t be afraid of death. Be afraid of the unlived life.”

These are the words said by Angus Tuck to Winnie Foster. Winnie is a teenager from a wealthy family who has stumbled upon the secret of the Tucks, a family living/hiding in the woods who hold the secret to eternal life. She has lived with the Tucks and fallen in love with Angus’ young son Jesse, who finally reveals the secret to her and would like to share it (eternal life, that is) with her.

As Jesse puts it, “I’m going to be 17 until the end of the world.” The Tucks didn’t choose to live this full life. They happened upon it—you see, it’s the spring in the middle of the woods that causes those who drink from it to become immortal. The Tucks were able to realize it later. And they do have their regrets. The oldest son Miles, in particular, has a tragic past and would prefer to die—but it can never happen.

Angus—the oldest in the family—tells Winnie that if she chooses to drink from the spring, she will live forever, but there will be things to miss, especially at her young age—much like Jesse, caught in limbo at more than a hundred years of age, but still in a 17-year-old body. So the choice is to live an everlasting life with the Tucks, or live a normal life with her family.

The question of immortality is the main strength of the wonderful family film “Tuck Everlasting,” based on the popular young adult novel of the same name. Maybe the term “family film” is somewhat unnecessary. Younger viewers may not think much of immortality because they already feel like they’re never going to die. But for older ones, it’s a remarkable concept. What would you choose if you were faced between a normal life and an everlasting one? What would you feel? You could say “yes” immediately, but would you think about it first? Some would, some wouldn’t. Winnie is given moments to think about a lot of things and only after does she make her decision. That’s how “Tuck Everlasting” plays out and as a result, the movie is thought-provoking and enchanting.

As it opens, Winnie (Alexis Bledel) is a teenaged rich girl who is tired of being kept inside her huge house with her overbearing parents (Victor Garber and Amy Irving) and wishes for something more in life. She runs away from home, into the woods, where she meets Jesse (Jonathan Jackson) at the spring. Jesse warns her to go away, but Winnie is stubborn and doesn’t leave that easily. It’s then that Miles (Scott Bairstow) comes along, sees her as a threat, grabs her, and takes her back to the Tuck home. Winnie is treated like a prisoner at first, to be sure she doesn’t go back and tell people where they are. But Winnie knows nothing of their true origins at the time, and opens up to their lifestyle.

A romance develops between Winnie and Jesse, and it’s developed nicely. It’s not cloying or forced—it’s sweet and innocent. By the time Winnie must make her choice, you genuinely wonder what will happen for them. Will Winnie stay with Jesse or will she leave him, knowing he’ll outlive her? There’s weight added to the question of immortality.

The Tucks are well-developed and have their own shadows and advantages. Angus and Mae (William Hurt and Sissy Spacek), the parents, are stuck in middle-aged bodies, but remain lively. Miles, stuck in the prime of his life, is the most tragic of the family, with a past revealed later that makes him more like a zombie stuck in a lifelike state without ever dying. Jesse is more like Peter Pan—never growing old, never dying, and forever young.

As if the choice of normality and eternity wasn’t enough, there’s a rising action featuring another character crucial to the story—a mysterious Man in a Yellow Suit (Ben Kingsley) who knows the Tucks’ secret and is determined to expose it. And of course, there’s the conflict of Winnie’s parents intent on finding their daughter, also risking the Tucks’ hideaway. These elements may be necessary, but they almost make the final act of the story seem somewhat overstuffed, with all the right payoffs.

But that’s a minor quibble, mind you. Ben Kingsley is suitably menacing in the role and the determination of the parents wanting their daughter back is realistic enough. However, Winnie’s important choice is the element that should address the most concern, in my opinion.

“Tuck Everlasting” is a wonderful film—one that makes you wonder, and provokes thoughts such as, “If you live forever, what do you live for?” That’s at the center of the movie and it’s very engaging.

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