I’m the kind of romantic that likes to find the meaning in things. Just in its natural course, life is sufficiently hard. And if you can find the hope underneath that, that there is connectedness and some reason to it, then there’s some comfort in that. That’s what I’ve learned anyway. And I think that feeling is in the movie.
– Akiva Goldsman, director
The preview for Winter’s Tale left me wanting to see the movie because it had a magical, romantic, beautiful feel about it, but it also left me absolutely in the dark as to what the movie was about. Then I read something which mentioned books that were a “must read” before their movies came out in 2014, Winter’sTale was on the list, so I set out to read all 750ish pages, after which I still was a bit in the dark as to what the story was about, to be honest. It was kind of like reading Moby Dick – long, laborious and sluggish (although it might be a well done piece of work if a teacher would force you to study and see—but I’m not sure about that). So, having some perspective on both versions of the story, I appreciated some of the changes the movie made to bring some clarity and purpose to the story. I know the reviews are mixed on the movie, as am I (about both book and movie), but for all the things I am on the fence about, the one thing that I am sure about, is that Winter’s Tale is an obvious opportunity for conversations about faith issues like the spiritual realm, our purpose, miracles, etc.—and all the more so for the fact that readers and viewers may be left a little confused and therefore looking to discuss and understand.
Winter’s Tale (I’ll stick to the movie version) is not just the beautiful love story that you see in the preview. It’s so much more. Ultimately, it’s the story about the battle of good and evil over the souls of men. Particularly, it’s the story of the battle of good and evil over Peter Lake’s soul, and the romance is just a small chapter in the larger drama. (Some will argue that the movie is ultimately a love story because that small chapter is the driving force for the rest of Peter Lake’s life. In that case, it’s still a story about the battle for his soul, and love was one of the forces of good.)
Peter Lake had been one of Pearly’s men. Pearly is a demon (disguised as a man) who has been given authority over New York City—that’s his domain. Peter had worked for him, been trained by him, followed him…Peter was one of Pearly’s favorites and had a lot of promise. But then things began to change. Peter began to have “ideas”. He began to imagine ways to steal without hurting or killing anyone. He might have still done bad things, but he wasn’t willing to do them Pearly’s way, the way of maximizing harm and damage. He wanted to minimize the harm. He wasn’t doing good yet, but it was a step in the right direction, and a step away from Pearly.
As he stepped away from Pearly, Pearly took it personally. Pearly was determined to destroy Peter Lake. Once Peter began to resist Pearly, Pearly and all his men attacked relentlessly. That was when help came his way in the form of a magical, flying horse. (It sounds silly – but it’s a fantasy, so, you know, anything goes.) The white horse was a “spirit guide” that appeared to help Peter defend himself and escape from Pearly. It was that horse that led Peter Lake to Beverly, the love of his life.
He had intended to steal from Beverly’s home, but the moment he met her everything changed. Beverly knew what he was doing, but she saw something in him—she saw a good man inside, and she assumed that was the greater reality and treated him as such. Beverly and her family were instrumental in the change in Peter Lake. They loved and trusted him and showed the poor orphan what it was to be loved by a family. He was transformed.
Meanwhile, Pearly was all the more enraged. Not only had he lost one of his protégée’s, but Peter Lake was getting closer and closer to finding his destiny, his purpose. Pearly was offended and insulted, but also about to lose. He worked for Lucifer and his job was to destroy hope, but as he said, “No matter how many we turn dark, they pass hope back and forth like a flue at the fair.” Since he could not seem to hurt Peter Lake directly, he set about destroying Beverly, the one Peter Lake loved.
Pearly’s focus on Beverly wasn’t just because Peter loved her, however. In Winter’s Tale, it is said that, “Inside of each of us is a miracle meant for one person and one person alone. …When we get close, we have spirit guides [to help us].” Peter Lake’s spirit guide, the white horse, had already arrived, and Pearly had had a vision of a red haired girl—she was to be Peter Lake’s miracle, his destiny. Beverly had red hair. Pearly assumed that Beverly was who Peter Lake’s miracle was meant for. If he could kill Beverly, then Peter Lake would have lost his purpose—the miracle inside him that was meant for her (aka his purpose) would be thwarted, and his hope lost. Lucifer cautioned Pearly, “You understand—a man’s destiny is often not what it seems.” But Pearly was determined to ruin Peter Lake.
Beverly died. Peter Lake felt his life was lost, but his “destiny was yet to be discovered.” Lucifer told Pearly, “You were so fixated on stopping him, you missed her entirely. He was her miracle.” Pearly had it all wrong, you see. Pearly assumed that saving Beverly was Peter Lake’s miracle, when it was the other way around. Saving Peter Lake was Beverly’s miracle, and once accomplished, her purpose on earth was done.
A hundred years later, Peter Lake resurfaced (literally – it’s a fantasy, so you just have to go with it), unchanged, and his story continued. He met a woman with a red-haired daughter named Abby who was dying of cancer. He realizes that this was the red haired girl that he saved in his dreams (though he too had assumed it was Beverly). This was the girl his miracle was meant for. She lived. Pearly was defeated and killed once and for all.
The movie concluded with Beverly’s voice narrating, pondering the deep questions of life. “Why would so many things conspire to save one little girl’s life? What if it wasn’t just Abby? What if we are all unique and what if the universe loves us all equally and it bends over backwards to help us all and we are just lucky enough once in a while to see it?” She concluded, “Nothing has been without purpose. Nothing.” “Nothing” would have to include even her own life and romance with Peter Lake—cut short, both. Peter came to the realization that his life and love had a greater purpose, one beyond his own sake. “Why do we love at all if not to save?” he questioned. He realized that the love he had for Beverly enabled him to love and save another. It couldn’t continue on in its present form, but it wasn’t without purpose, and it didn’t end with Beverly. Love saves. It saved him; it saved Abby, it would save others.
So here are a few of the wonderful ideas and themes in Winter’s Tale:
- There’s a spiritual battle going on for the souls of men.
- The enemy gets really mad when he loses one of his own, and then the pressure really heats up. Peter Lake wasn’t attacked until he left Pearly. Then he became a target. When we follow Christ, we should expect much the same.
- Peter Lake was transformed by the Penn family – because they loved him, spoke to the good in him (not the bad), treated him like one of their own.
- Love is transformative, and has the power to save (and romantic love is only ONE form of that love, but not the required form…Peter Lake did not have romantic love for young Abby, but his love saved her nonetheless.)
- The idea of our life’s purpose is prevalent throughout the movie in a beautiful, inspiring way. Our life’s purpose is for something bigger than ourselves. We live for the sake of others. In the movie, every person’s purpose has to do with a miracle that is meant for someone else.
- Love involves sacrifice, and true love serves the one it loves.
- The idea that nothing is without purpose, and that things work together for good is encouraging and uplifting.
- As we pursue righteousness, supernatural help often comes along to support us.
- Sometimes we misunderstand. Pearly and Peter Lake both misunderstood what his purpose was, who he was supposed to save. They both saw a vision of a red haired girl, but they mis-applied the vision. For Pearly, he held too tightly to what he thought he knew, and it cost him his life. Peter Lake was humble enough to adjust his understanding as he came to know more. In either case, there is much that we only know in part, and assuming full knowledge of a thing we only know partly is potentially dangerous.
I would be remiss if I stopped there, though. The movie has some wonderful themes, but it also misses some things. The movie is definitely told from a mystical, new-agey, American-Indian we-are-all-one and all everything is connected kind of place. And it mixes theological ideologies together freely in the (oftentimes) ridiculous ideal that is the American melting pot. God is not a crock pot. So, while we examine some of the great themes, the meaty truths, we need also be aware of the seasonings of other religions and bad theology that has been thrown into the mix. In so doing, we’ll discover that the meat of God’s truth tastes even better when it’s untainted and uncovered up by lesser (aka false) flavors and sauces.
- One of the major, recurring themes (also a false one) is the idea that we are machines, and that machines are spirits, and that we are all one and all connected. The book has a huge emphasis on the spirit of the city and the buildings and machines in the city, the movie doesn’t take the time to go there, but we do have Peter Lake saying, “I’m just a mechanic, but what are we but machines? Machines that need a little help to run.” OK—machines do not have souls, and people are not machines, and we—people and machines—are not all connected. We are different than machines. WE, humankind alone among creation, are made in God’s image. It’s a privilege given only to humans. Not even the animals can claim that, and certainly not machines.
- Beverly at the end asks all these “what if’s.” “What if we are a part of a greater pattern that we are incapable of knowing? What if when we are done with our purpose we get to rise up and be with those we love? What if we get to become stars?” Again she ponders, “Why would so many things conspire to save one little girl’s life? What if it wasn’t just Abby? What if we are all unique and what if the universe loves us all equally and it bends over backwards to help us all and we are just lucky enough once in a while to see it?” They are nice, lovely sentiments, but the reality is SO much better than all her sentimental ponderings.
- We are part of a great and wonderful plan, and while we may not understand all the specifics, much of it has been revealed to us, from the creation of the world in Genesis, to the end of the world in Revelation. We have been told the whole, sweeping narrative. We know about the epic battle of good and evil. We know that we were created to be in loving relationship with our Creator, that sin entered the world and that that relationship was fractured, and that Jesus came to restore that relationship by paying for our sins with his death on the cross. We know that our part in that narrative is to help spread the good news of Jesus to all who haven’t heard, making disciples because it is not His desire that any should perish. We know that when the time is right, He will return and establish His kingdom on earth. This isn’t a “what if.” It’s a beautiful reality…and it’s one God wants us to know—so much so He gave us the Bible to explain it to us.
- When we are done with our purpose, if we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, then we do get to rise up and be with the one we love—HIM, and all who also love Him.
- We don’t become stars. That’s actually not a wonderful thought. I don’t want to be a star; I want to be me (or maybe a better version of me, but still me). I don’t want to be some inanimate thing in the sky; I want to keep on living, with a purpose. This time our reality is far better than her imagining. We get to be ourselves, but resurrected selves, perfected—and we get to live in HIS kingdom, with no suffering, no pain, no injustice—a perfect place. (As the book focuses on, it’s a “perfectly just city.”)
- Good and evil are freely admitted and discussed, even God is mentioned, Lucifer is shown (Will Smith cameo’s)—but Jesus is omitted from the discussion. Without Jesus, the “god of good” talked about could be any god from any religion.
- It’s a movie about love, about the forces of good and evil, about so many things—but in the end, it was all for the purpose of saving little Abby’s life. We may remember the love story as the point, but the love story was what it took to get Peter to the point where he was ready to save Abby’s life. It was all for Abby. So Beverly asks, what if it wasn’t just for Abby, but what if “the universe” does the same for us all. Here’s the good news – it’s not the nebulous universe that conspires for our salvation—it’s a loving God. And yes, she’s right. God did go to immeasurable lengths and innumerable troubles, he did conspire and bend over backwards just for you and just for me—for every single individual. He gave his only son to die on the cross, for us alone, to pay for our sins. All because He LOVES us. It’s a certainty, not a speculation, and it’s so much greater, more personal and tender and loving than Beverly has imagined.
- When we need help, we don’t have “spirit guides” as the movie calls them, we have angels, and God says He will command them concerning us.
- Our purpose is not limited to one miracle. We don’t have one, single, narrow focus for our life, one miracle to perform, one purpose to accomplish before our life is over. God is so much bigger than one. His purposes for us are vast. In John 14:12 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do.” Jesus, who performed too many miracles to be recorded (John 21:25), says we should expect to do even more, greater works than he did because of the Holy Spirit in us. Our purpose is so much bigger, so much grander than that presented in Winter’s Tale, and what was presented there was actually pretty fantastic. Jesus is better!
I hope you’ll take the time to enjoy some conversations about Winter’s Tale. It’s a movie that lends itself to discussion, partly because it’s confusing, partly because it’s complicated, partly because it’s not what it seems, partly because it literally raises all these questions for you, directly and specifically. Whether you loved it, hated it, were confused by it or indifferent about it, just don’t forget to use it as a launch pad to talk to others about how Jesus is so much better than the best the movie presents!
Questions for Discussion:
- What did you think about the movie’s depiction of good and evil?
- Why do you think that even though God and Satan are in the movie (or at least mentioned), Jesus is not?
- What do you think about Beverly’s comments that we are all connected? About Spirit Guides? What religious back ground do these types of comments indicate?
- Do you believe we each have one miracle, one purpose, or do you think it’s bigger than that? Why? Which is more comforting and encouraging to you – one miracle, one purpose, or a multi faceted purpose and the expectation of a miraculous life, akin to Jesus’?
- Where do you get your ideas about purpose, spirituality, eternity, good and evil, angels and demons? What is the authority that you turn to for answers?
- Beverly (the movie) speculated about a lot of “what if’s”. Which is better to you? What if’s or the things the Bible says we can know?
- Do you believe there’s a spiritual battle going on for the souls of men? A battle of good and evil?
- Why did Pearly hate Peter Lake so much? Do you think Satan hates believers and targets them all the more because they left his service to follow Jesus? Do you think Satan takes it personally the way Pearly Soames did (when Peter Lake “betrayed” him)?
 Any other readers of the book disappointed with the horse in the movie? He was so much more impressive in the book. I kind of hoped with special effects and all they could have done more with him, but that’s just me, horse lover that I am.