In a world which imposes and commands conformity, being peculiar is usually considered to be a negative trait. Even the very intonation of the word sounds demeaning and a cringe appears on your face while you read it. This story is not about that world…
Directed by the “Edgar Allan Poe” of World Cinema, Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an homage to the misfits, the eccentrics and the breakers of norm.
Directed by the “Edgar Allan Poe” of World Cinema, Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an homage to the misfits, the eccentrics and the breakers of norm. Almost all of Burton’s films have this character of paranormality to them, not in reference to ghosts or the supernatural but to the antithesis of what we consider normal or conventional. Reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s Terrifying Tales, Burton’s fascination with death and decay is a constantly recurring factor which makes nihilists and hipsters love his work.
Check out this amazing study of Burton’s style of cinematography: Analysis of Art and Design in Tim Burton’s Films
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children revolves around a teenager named Jacob Portman who is a lanky introverted individual, spending his leisure working at a Supermarket. He is typically awkward around his social peers and finds solace in his grandfather’s company. One fateful day, he receives a phone-call from his grandfather who now lives in a community for veterans where he frantically asks him “not to come for him” as “they were after him”. Unfazed by the warning, he reaches his grandpa’s place and finds the place turned over as if someone had been searching for something, with no signs of the old man. He soon finds the old man, injured and dying at the back of his house. The old man grabs hold of his hand and asks him to “… find the bird in the loop on the other side of the old man’s grave on September 1940, and tell them what happened.”
Jacob forgets those cryptic last words but cannot forget all the strange stories his grandfather had told him throughout his childhood. Although he had grown out of them with age and no longer believed in them, he now felt a tinge of guilt for not humoring the man in his last days. To gain closure, he convinces his parents and his psychiatrist to let him go to Wales, where his grandfather ran an Orphanage with one Miss Peregrine. On reaching Wales, he finds the Orphanage in ruins and learns that many years ago during the World War, an enemy plane had bombed the place and no one had survived. Disappointed at the loss of his one chance for closure, he returns to the ruins another day to feel his grandfather’s presence one last time. That’s when he sees a girl, fleeting inside the house. Intrigued by the strange vision he follows her to a cave where he finds more children. Astonishingly, they all seem to know him and even tell him that he resembled his grandfather. He recognizes them as well from the photographs his grandfather had shown him while he was a kid. They take him to a stately woman who is Miss Peregrine, the matron and care-taker of the children. Everyone Jacob meets has a peculiarity or special power. One little boy Miller is permanently invisible, Emma is lighter than feather and needs to wear special lead-lined shoes just to stay grounded, so on and so forth.
Without ruining the rest of the strange Wonderland-esque story for you, I’ll jump on to some of my finer observations of the film. Keeping aside the obvious mental reference to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, this story somehow feels like the projection of Jacob’s psyché and his unsorted social life. It is understandable that in a world where introverted people like him are pushed into gregarious experiences and treated differently, he would want to believe in the reality of a world where peculiarity was a virtue. Although he had convinced himself that his grandfather’s outrageous stories were not true, subconsciously he wished that they were. The children in the orphanage were not different than him after all, outcasted by society and left to fend for themselves.
Burton’s vision of this world trapped in time, is a montage of colours. A clear departure from his usual, dark and brooding kind of characterization, this film seems almost eerily cheerful. The design language of the set, the costumes of the children and even the mannerisms are straight out of those creepy faded black and white photographs from the 1900s where no one is smiling. In fact, in the starting credits a similar mood of mysterious anachronism is projected onto you.
In the first half, the pace seems excruciatingly slow compensated only by Bruno Delbonnel’s artful cinematography which is captivating. Delbonnel’s mark, which had got him a Oscar nomination for his work in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is clearly visible with scenes which seem to adopt the ambience of the character(s) which are in the shot currently. The color palettes contrast between moods from a cheery with largely popping colours to a midnight blue with more shadows and highlights.
Asa Butterfield, as Jacob, brings the same innocent charm to the character as he did with the hugely appreciated Hugo. Eva Green, as Miss Peregrine, is always dressed in Black and is charming and fierce at the same time with an immersive screen presence that is so accentuated by her piercing eyes. Samuel L. Jackson’s makeover is definitely the scariest one you have ever seen. However, with very limited screen time Jackson’s character is not able to create the impact that had been intended for him but suffice to say that you should not take your toddlers to see this film, if you do not want them to be scarred for life.
From a crawling start (at one point I thought I was never going to see the peculiar children I had come to see) to a second act with a rapid onslaught of characters and movement and background arcs, it leaves you tired and baffled at the same time.
The biggest shortcoming of this beautifully shot film is its pacing. From a crawling start (at one point I thought I was never going to see the peculiar children I had come to see) to a second act with a rapid onslaught of characters and movement and background arcs, it leaves you tired and baffled at the same time. Having said that, the narrative has some great ideas that good stories usually have. The concept of the time-loop and the presence of such time-loops all over the world was a novel idea. One could hop from the nearest time-loop to the next and go anywhere in the world. Mind-boggling if you are not paying attention.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a scintillating story constricted to fit Burton’s pathological attention to imagery. The focus on visual elements and characters, somewhat leaves the screenplay languishing. Although this is definitely not one of Burton’s best works, it still is a good story with interesting symbolism…
gobblpoint: Definitely one of the more visually appealing films this year, watch it for the children and the peculiar world of Miss Peregrine.
Disclaimer: The images used in this post are the sole property of the makers of this film and are not owned by us in any form whatsoever.