The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man. – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Winter’s Tale, a movie of fantasy and romance with a dash of mystery and adventure, was released this past week on Valentine’s Day. Based on the novel by conservative author Mark Helprin and brought to the screen by director/screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) and producer Kerry Foster (Lone Survivor), Winter’s Tale provides a nice change of pace for a date night from the annual Nicholas Sparks book-to-movie.
The story, which spans more than a hundred years, begins in turn-of-the century New York City and centers around the talented thief Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), who meets the beautiful but doomed redhead, Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) while attempting to rob her house, which he mistakenly believed was not then occupied.
Hunted by gangster Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) – who is more than he first appears – Peter Lake falls in love with Beverly, whose feverous illness is well-suited to the icy New York winter – her body temperature cannot rise beyond an unusually low threshold or it will be fatal. With a trusty white Horse at his side, Peter hopes to save her from the eminent death that doctors have been prognosticating.
The greatest weakness of the film is that, in the first twenty minutes, it attempts to fill the audience in on a lot of concepts while jumping around chronologically. This is the result of attempting to condense a 600-page book into a movie that runs just over two hours; concepts are rather awkwardly rushed into the film, rather than introduced in their proper context as in the source material. Added to this is the general strangeness of the film, by which I don’t mean something negative. It is simply a sort of whimsical fantasy.
As it goes, Winter’s Tale gets better. Russell Crowe and Colin Farrell turn in good performances, as is to be expected. Jessica Brown Findlay captures Beverly’s essence. Will Smith has a surprising but entertaining cameo. Hans Zimmer turns in his usual beautiful score. The production level in general is Hollywood-worthy – perhaps surprising for a story based on a book by a conservative author.
The conservatism of the story is evident to one looking closely. There are, of course, no discourses on taxes, health care or small government. Winter’s Tale is more abstractly and philosophically conservative.
First of all, it is, more than anything else, concerned with the timeless. It practically smiles knowingly at the perspective that the here and now is all there is. (Will Smith’s “Judge” literally scoffs at the concept of time.) The battle between good and evil is eternal and spiritual, not temporal and material, and good and evil are not shifting concepts.
Pearly Soames’ highest goal is to interfere with miracles and love, to steal hope and to cause general chaos. If it is his and Peter Lake’s destiny to face off against each other, Peter Lake stands for all those good things.
The other central concept is the saving power of love. It is love that is said to cause miracles and symbolically shown to last forever. The value of human life is indicated by the assertion that saving even one person is worth it. The war then, though vast and eternal, is also personal and individual.
Winter’s Tale poses some deeper questions than your average Valentine’s Day release and it holds some unexpected turns. Though no masterpiece, a viewer who accepts its unusual ways will be rewarded.
My rating: 3 out of 4 stars