Disney has made a lovely film version of the book that is a perennial middle-school favorite.
Angus Tuck (William Hurt) tells rich, overprotected Winnie Foster (“Gilmore Girls’” Alexis Bledel) that he feels like a rock by the side of a stream, life rushing past him. She feels that way, too. Her proud and proper mother (Amy Irving) laces her into a tight corset, fences her inside manicured lawns, and pins her inside dozens of rules intended to demonstrate refinement and superiority.
Winnie’s days stretch bleakly and endlessly until her mother tells her that she is going to be sent away to an even more restrictive environment, a very strict finishing school. Winnie goes outside the fence and the perfectly landscaped grounds of the house to run into the untamed woods, not knowing if she is running away from something or to something.
She gets lost. And then she sees a boy (Jonathan Jackson as Jesse), drinking from a secret spring. And he and his brother kidnap her and take her to their family’s hidden cabin. They treat her with an odd mixture of hospitality and intimidation, making it clear that she is not free to go. Her prim lessons in manners have given her no way to respond but acquiescence. And she is drawn to Jesse and comes to love her life with the Tucks and with their sense of timelessness.
In the Tuck home, there is no time. Or, there is too much time, which turns out to be pretty much the same thing. They drank from the secret spring not realizing that its water had special power. Then they slowly began to realize that they can never be hurt or killed. They will never grow older. They will stay as they are forever.
More unsettling, though, is another growing realization, that this one difference moves them so far from the core reality of human existence that they can no longer have anything in common with other people. Indeed, they present such a challenge to the most fundamental assumptions that people are either terrified or overcome with greed. The Tucks must do anything necessary to make sure no one knows their secret.
Parents should know that the movie includes tense scenes, peril, and a murder. There are some mild teen romantic encounters, including a swim in underwear. The themes of the movie may be too melancholy for younger children.
Families who see this movie should talk about what they would do if they had the choice presented to Winnie. They should also compare it to the book. Why make Winnie a teenager in the movie when she is only 10 in the book? How does that change the story?
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the book and other books by the same author, Bub or the Very Best Thing or my favorite, The Search for Delicious. They might like to compare this movie to the earlier version. Parents and teachers may also want to look at this guide for teachers or this discussion guide.