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Film / Neverwas

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Of all the things one says and does
I look back on what never was.
Then think of all that life could be
If I could capture what I see.

— T.L. Pierson

Neverwas is a 2005 fantasy film written and directed by Joshua Michael Stern, starring Aaron Eckhart, Ian McKellen, Nick Nolte, Brittany Murphy, William Hurt, Jessica Lange, and Alan Cumming. Music by space composer Philip Glass and production design by Sean Hargreaves.

Dr. Zach Riley (Eckhart) is a promising young psychologist who begins working at a small private mental institution in New England. Years ago, T.L. Pierson (Nolte), the acclaimed author of The Adventures of Zachary Small in Neverwas, a classic piece of children's fantasy, was hospitalized for severe depression in this place. Pierson was Zach Riley's father, and the child hero of Neverwas is based on Zach. Pierson later committed suicide, and his son discovered his body.

Working in the hospital, Zachary meets Gabriel Finch (McKellen), a patient who has intimate knowledge of Neverwas and who has been waiting many long and lonely years for Zachary to come and return Gabriel to his rightful place as king of Neverwas. As Zachary tries to cure Gabriel of his delusions, he learns that there is more reality to Neverwas than meets the eye, and he makes a hero's journey to restore the kingdom.

This film contains examples of:

  • Bedlam House: Millwood is an aversion. Although the place is falling apart and is rapidly losing funding, the patients are treated well on the shoestring budget and Dr. Reed clearly cares about trying to help them.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Maggie was a childhood friend of Zach and they're in a relationship by the end.
  • The Chosen One: Gabriel believes that Dr. Riley has arrived to free Finch and restore his kingdom. He does.
  • Mad Dreamer: Gabriel Finch has submerged himself in a highly detailed world of fantasy. It's briefly revealed that this got started when he was very young and suffering his father's brutal abuse. It's a telling moment when Zach enters Finch's room and finds gorgeous forest illustrations painted on the walls; again, when he goes through Finch's files and finds a trove of letters and poems from his own father, who was Finch's friend when he was in the asylum. Zach also discovers a diary/scrapbook of Neverwas lore that seems to have been compiled by both men.
  • Prophecies Rhyme All the Time: All of Finch's prophecies, possibly because Gabriel told Pierson his story and Pierson wrote a children's book based on it. When Finch discovers the book in Zach's things, he understands exactly what his old friend has done, and regards the book as prophetic.
  • Real After All: Most of what Finch speaks of is grounded in reality. It's his poetic, metaphorical, fairytale speech that makes you think he's more insane than he is. note 
  • Suicide by Cop: Possibly what Finch was going for in the final sequence depending on how much you think he knows he's "insane".