I am almost certain that all of us are familiar with the story of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan—the boy who never grew up. Peter Pan also existed as stage plays and as both animated and live-action film adaptations. However, in Kellen Moore’s thesis film East of Kensington (2012), which brings back the much-loved characters from Neverland and London, Barrie’s romanticized story of eternal childhood is extended into something that bleeds reality—dark, gritty, and heart-breaking.
In the framework of narrative analysis, we inspect the different aspects of the text separately, and then all together. In the case of East of Kensington, it might be best to start with its quality of intertextuality, given that the entirety of the film is a reference to Barrie’s classic novel. Here we see a number of the same characters from the novel—whether in flashback or real-time form—and we witness Moore’s alternate epilogue to the story. The familiarity that people have with the characters is magnetic and effectively draws viewers in.
The space and time within which East of Kensington occurs is the Darling house in Kensington, London, thirty to forty years since the events of Peter Pan. Time doesn’t pass the same way for the unchanging and immortal Peter in Neverland, while on the other hand we see the ruins of the Darling house and of the boy who was once Michael Darling. The setting is closely linked to the causality of the plot, as well as the closing events of Peter Pan. The sequences flow roughly this way: Peter, haunted by the memory of Wendy, returns to Kensington to seek her out and bring her back to Neverland; and Michael, embittered and scarred by the fact that when he and his siblings returned from Neverland they had been subjected to various psychological treatments and psychiatric drugs to treat their “hysteria,” as nobody would believe them when they had attested that Neverland existed, captures Peter and keeps him prisoner. Michael’s experience in Neverland and the events thereafter caused his mind to decay and these two factors drive his anger, cruelty and bitterness towards Peter and Tinkerbell.
If we were to align East of Kensington with Todorov’s schema, one of the universal models of narrative development, it would be in this form: the exposition and the state of equilibrium were presented through a normal night with Peter and the Lost Boys; the disruption occurred when Toodles, one of the Lost Boys, brought Peter a thimble, which caused him to remember Wendy Darling and travel back to London; the complications come into play when a strange man appears in the Darling house, captures Peter, and tortures Tinkerbell; the climax of the story happens when Peter learns of the fates of the Darling children—that they had undergone various forms of psychosurgical treatments, particularly Wendy, and never recovered from the experience of being in Neverland—and when Peter learns that his abductor was none other than Michael Darling himself; and the film closes with a sequence of Michael breaking down crying, Tinkerbell succumbing to death, and Peter on the verge of fleeing the Darling house.
On the other hand, Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp identified the seven key roles that are essential to a hero’s journey in a classical Russian narrative, namely the villain, the chief, the donor, the helper, the princess, the dispatcher, and the false hero. I find that this is difficult to apply directly to East of Kensington, given that its characters and their motivations are more complex and three-dimensional than the standard folktale, and it is up to the viewer to decide which among the characters is more at fault—Michael or Peter?
In closing, I conclude that East of Kensington is heavily reliant on the text from which it is referenced for viewers to experience the total intensity of its plot. And yet even as an alternate ending of the tale of the legendary Peter Pan and the Darling children, the narrative is whole and three-dimensional in itself, and the film is successful in being able to get its story across.
Gillespie, Marie and Jasyon Toynbee. (Eds.) (2006). Analysing Media Texts. England: Open University Press.
O’Donnell, Victoria. (2013). Television Criticism, 2nd ed. Los Angeles/London/New Delhi/Singapore/Washington D.C.: Sage.
Matheson, Donald. (2005). Media Discourses: Analysing Media Texts. England: Open University Press.
Moore, Kellen. (2012). East of Kensington. Film. Can be accessed through: vimeo.com/70091579.