Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

 

                Tim Burton’s imagination is indeed peculiar.  And so is his film version of the book by Ransom Riggs. 

                Jake (Asa Butterfield) is very close to his grandfather, Abraham Portman (Terence Stamp).  That’s why Jake is so distressed to find his grandfather in his back yard, mauled by some wild animal.  Jake immediately wants to go get help, but Abraham tells him to listen instead: he has a secret to tell him.  He’s got a special gift.  And he believes Jake has it, also.  And here’s how you find out for sure.

                Now, suddenly, all those bedtime stories of Abraham’s begin to take on a different meaning.  Abraham says he was raised in a “special home,” which Jake’s Dad has always discounted as just another orphanage.  But it seems this was a “home for peculiar children,” meaning a place where children with “special gifts” lived together.  And the housemistress was Miss Peregrine, and Jake would discover something fantastic if he could just journey to the old orphanage, on an island off Wales.

                After consulting with Jake’s psychologist, who recommends this as “good closure,” Jake’s Dad reluctantly agrees to take him, thinking that they’re really going bird-watching together on the beach, but Jake takes the first opportunity to explore the old orphanage, which he finds to be bombed out, by the Nazis in World War II.  Apparently it’s sat there, half-demolished, ever since.

                Now we take a left turn in the story, as Jake discovers some kind of “portal” which takes him to 1943, the day the orphanage was bombed.  Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) is there, along with a collection of “peculiar children,” one of whom as great strength, another is in touch with the earth and can make plants grow instantly.  Another has an extra mouth in the back of her head?  And yet another floats, and seems to have power to make air bubbles underwater big enough for people to be able to breathe.  It’s this one, Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), who particularly interests Jake, because, well, she happens to be beautiful, also.

                But this isn’t really a love story, though their spark makes for a bit of unspoken sexual tension.  It’s actually about a time warp, where Miss Peregrine and her Peculiar Children continue to live through the very same day, including rescuing an injured bird on the same spot at the same time every day (Miss Peregrine is constantly consulting her watch to make sure that all is done precisely on time, otherwise they may not escape the bomb that lands on their building).

                The reason Jake can do all this is because he, too, has a peculiar gift:  he can spot the “monsters,” the ones that are after the children, because, well, they’re the ones who prevent the monsters from just eating out everyone’s eyeballs (a particular delicacy of theirs).

                Does this plot sound peculiar?  That’s because it is.  But it’s also tremendously creative, more than a little creepy, and somehow irrepressibly optimistic, as well.  It’s a little intense for smaller children, and too fanciful for the “action/adventure” adults, and too weird for the “romantic comedy” fans.  But its unique atmosphere and energetic narrative will charm those who desire to expand their moviegoing horizons.

Questions for Discussion:

1)      Have you known children with “special gifts”?  What became of them?

2)      Have you known a counselor who gave bad advice?

3)      If you could do time travel, where and when would you go?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association