Neverwas (2005)


Link: Neverwas

Summary: The son of a famous children’s fantasy author returns to his hometown to work at a mental institution where he discovers a crazy old man whose delusions, as it turns out, provided the inspiration for his father’s fantasy book.

Thoughts: You know you’re in for a cheesy movie when something like the above picture is the movie poster.  And when you learn the film came straight to DVD with no theatrical release.  And it was cheesy.  There were a lot of things that didn’t quite work.  But, overall, I found it to be a surprisingly touching story, and I very much enjoyed it.

I stumbled on this movie in a strange way.  I was planning out middle-grade fantasy novel (still plotting it out; won’t be the next book I write, but it’s simmering) involving a child who’s fantasy-author father dies.  I was trying to think of a name for the kingdom for the father’s fantasy novels, which would, of course, be the name of the middle-grade book itself.  And, of course, compound words make the best sort of names, as they conjure up certain feelings.  “Neverwas” was one of the names I thought about.  I Googled it to see if it was taken by something else, and indeed it was.  Not only that, but it seemed this strange film had many similarities to my own story: a dead father who was a fantasy author.  Actually, that’s the only similarity, but at the time it seemed like a lot.  You know how writers are, always afraid their ideas have been taken.  Anyway, that’s how I stumbled on the movie, which probably pre-biased me in favor of it.

That said, Neverwas is a strange movie.  It’s not a fantasy, it’s a drama.  It’s about an adult dealing with adult issues.  His father became a famous author, giving interviews and winning the hearts of readers, but his son knew how depressed and messed up he actually was.  His father committed suicide.  So while the world sees his father’s fantasy book as a brilliant work of literature, his son sees it as the mad writings of a man who’d rather retreat into a nonsense world than deal with his real-world problems.  And then to learn that his father’s novel was actually based on the ramblings of another still-living delusional old man, he loses even more respect for his father, and for himself.

But all this is very inward and personal, making it a very hard story to capture on film, and usually the only way it manages is through cheesy dialog and mood swings that barely make sense.  Overall, the story muddles itself with too many character conflicts that are all too internal.  I think it would’ve worked better if the main character had focused on one external goal that represented what he needed internally.  That way, it would have been much easier to empathize with him.  Without it, some viewers really have to put some effort into understanding the main characters’ struggles, and it’s just not going to work for a lot viewers.  It’s going to come across as shallow or convoluted.

But if you can get past the cheesy dialog, some of the more forced plot points, and the hard-to-understand scenes of the main character sitting there crying, I think there is something touching under it all.  It’s about how we use stories to deal with the hard problems of the real world, and how those stories can be both real and unreal at the same time.  There are some wonderfully deep themes here if you can catch sight of them.  Of course, as a fantasy writer, I’m biased towards any film that can portray fantasy stories as something important and meaningful.  They give me ideas for more stories and inspire me to keep writing.

Finally, the film features a beautiful score by Philip Glass.  I know a lot of his work sounds like mostly a bunch of shifting arpeggios, but I love it, and it fits the spirit of the film wonderfully.

The film was only $6 on Amazon, so I couldn’t resist purchasing it.