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Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

You can make being forced to live in a comfy environment, where there aren't much in the way of changes but where you feel protected and enjoy fellow-feeling, seem greatly sad and perverse ... something to be broken out of in a hurry. The way I would do it is to remind people that that what was part of what living through 1930 to 1945 was like. This was not a time for individualism, for breaking free of expectations into a realm where you establish what life you might like for yourself; but rather for people cloistering in packs against a menacing world. It was a time where all pronouncements that every human life involves a process of individuation as children establish themselves as adults, have to be put into question: you could be, potentially -- and even very likely, for it's what the age wants of you -- pretty much the same person, as you orbit in your safe familiar routines, from age ten through adult. You could be the person stunted into not making any thrilling changes about yourself, as you basically stand in place, glad, at least, not to be withered by the threatening outside world. And perhaps glad, also, not to be pressured to be expected to make something of oneself and experience the cataclysm of that further great scary unknown. Question: How did you survive the Depression? Answer: Everyone in my community looked after one another... and also, I was lucky enough to have a job. Not much there, you'll find, of the human story as from overseen child to individuated adult.

Miss Peregrine is the matriarch of a home of "kids" -- defined loosely, as a number of them are in their late teens -- that perpetually exist in the day where their home is bombed by cascading German bombers -- they "loop" back to the beginning of the day, just as the bombs are dropped. It's Britain, at the time when, plausibly, Germans might yet conquer Britain, and the war and the prospect of German rule had no end (mid 1943). They mean you to understand them as very different from other Britains, in that they are good and soulful people while the rest of Britains are bigot barbarians keen to see any new stranger in their midst as a dangerous infiltrator to be strung up. Wonderful, it would have been, to hint that that sense of belonging and warmth that you are meant to feel as you experience Peregrine's home, is how Britains experienced their own hearth at this time as well... it's really how they were experiencing their pub culture, this delightful clinging to loyalty while they endure their collective Britain-under-siege. That is, if you want to pick a group of people who really would be distinguished from other people at this time, don't choose those who, in their eager embrace of this cloistering environment, evidently are those who'd be afraid of venturing off just now into an exciting new post-war environment. Choose instead... well, the villains of this film, who are distinguished by the fact that they took their given lot in life (an ability to create time loops) and aimed not just to remain content but to dramatically improve on it: those who'd defy the gods and demand more; Jazz Age in an age of collective reproof and accepting of your lot. People like this guy:

We are told at the end that what enabled the "kids" to triumph over the scary hollowgasts was that the intruder into their realm, Jake, from 2016, gave them bravery. Well, if we are really watching the film rather than indulging in its delivered beats, we'd note to ourselves immediately that the kids really didn't need to discover that: we saw no hesitation in their combined efforts to thwart the mob and rescue Jake when he first tumbled into their stiffened, suspicious 1943 world, for instance. They acted in just as coordinated a fashion there as later. All that seemed to be called for in this latter instance is that governing matriarchs be disposed of. Miss Peregrine gets locked in a cage; and the new head mistress gets eaten up, immediately after she delineates how the children are to stay out of the way and do nothing while she handles all the baddies herself. Apparently, they, gone, gives avenue to growing new wings. Something was different this time out, even if their actions were the same, like as if perhaps they felt that this time they were doing it for themselves rather than as extensions of others' agency.   

Actually Jake may have played his part in their discovery of new bravery -- if perhaps innocently. Unlike the rest of the peculiars, his primary attachment is to adult men. Not just his grandfather, who in a sense doesn't really represent the complete individuation attached to him for his previously leaving the 1943 loop and experiencing "a life outside" -- including wife, kids, and grandchildren -- because it turns out he spent much of his time as a kind of servant to this time, going about the world hunting hollowgasts. His mind was ever with them. Where it wasn't was with his own son, who complains at one point to Jake about this. And it is he, Jake's father, the one who can't be brought to believe in Jake's phantasms, and who seems a normal if beleaguered dad -- one you might hope to eventually forge a better connection with -- who is the real perpetrator Jake innocently brings into the lives of the peculiars. The command in Jake, that is, is something they might smell off him, not owing to his connection to the ostensibly individuated grandfather, but owing to his having a connection to a father who can't be enticed into this world they're so beholden to. Like a figure from contemporary literature brought into a fantasy realm, he wouldn't want any part of it, no matter how real it ends up proving to be. 

In my judgment this isn't a stretch. Jake only gets to this past 1943 loop by taking a vacation with his father. So while the relationship between father and son is not shown here to be in any sense ideal -- most of the attention is put to how distant they are from one another -- attention is nevertheless put to the very fact of their company. We think on it. Its potentials, realized and thwarted. And we see out of this that the father doesn't only display behaviour his son must learn to spurn. There's something worthy in how his father handles outsiders. While alone Jake is shown to be bullyable, his father is confident in situations where the son senses only that he's likely going to be victimized.  The father can change the expectations of others, manage situations. The film ultimately uses these instances to shortchange the dad -- getting the vagrant teen gang to show his son around the island spares him time to write his book -- but not before we notice there is something to learn from him, and even hope for more of that. Or even just for improved interchange between them, kind of like we saw when the dad, rather than scolding his son, accepts that his son might be up to just teenage sort of stuff, and that that's not just a relief -- he's not a psycho, than god! -- but actually, well, okay. 

This is a human being doing that, one alone before the world, without any guidance. Not some member of a special collective, beholden to a life-script of us vs. them, just like any other sad Depression and wartime kid. In this film, it is the dad, in being so ontologically alone and still trying to function, who bears traces of being enticingly peculiar. 


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