Embracing your inner child: Christopher Robin (2018)
Updated: Mar 26, 2019
Stressed at work? You may want to read this.
Last weekend, when I sat down to watch this movie, I honestly thought that I was just in for two-hours of feel-good & easy-to-forget entertainment. But then, Christopher Robin, starring Ewan McGregor, turned out to be much more engaging and deep than I had expected. Some of the symbols that appear are spot-on, and the portrayal of the underlying psychological process is really precise. I particularly recommend the movie, and this post, to people who feel stressed and lost in their busy working lives, as this will be one of the focal points I write about. Warning: If you haven't seen the movie, then don't read on (but rather: treat your inner child to this experience and go watch the movie). If you've seen it, then read below for my interpretation of the movie's key symbols. Spoilers ahead!
As daunting as "Sooner or later, your past catches up with you" sounds, it is spot on, and it refers to the movie audience as well. This film helps you do just that – get in touch with your past, or more precisely, your childhood. If Winnie the Pooh was a part of your childhood, then watching the movie will, of course, bring back some of those memories. But even if Winnie the Pooh did not use to be your thing, witnessing the process of Ewan McGregor's character, the adult Christopher Robin, will undoubtedly make you question some aspects of your own adulthood – and perhaps even re-visit some of those old wounds. And yes, that is sometimes not a 100% cheerful experience, but it is worth it. One of the key takeouts of this movie is: without a complete childhood – or the healing of the childhood wounds–, it is very difficult to be a complete adult.
The adult Christopher Robert has, in his own words, "lost himself", he is running his grown-up life on autopilot. We see some of the key events that have lead him here: he is prematurely 'kidnapped' from the paradise of his childhood, forced into a boarding school, where he is molded into 'the system' too early and harshly. We see the cold relationship with his parents, with some wounds never healed also due to the early death of his father. We see him in war, and then at the workplace. And we see that the result of all this is an approaching crisis. On the surface, he is operating all structures of his life 'appropriately': he has a family, a house, a job with managerial responsibility. And still, we get the sense that the cracks in all these are starting to show: the growing disappointment of his wife, his daughter, who is being raised as a mini-adult, and not as a child (and her portrayal of this is eerily good: when asked to go play outside, she decides to do that as well and efficiently as possible...). And there are cracks even at the job, because even with him trying to do his very best, he does not deliver what he really should – for example, standing up to a bullying boss, when all of his team would need him to do that. In all, we see Christopher Robin avoiding conflicts, trying to please all sides and do his very best, and as a result: he is overworked and he still under-delivers. Speaking for myself, I have – during my years working in an office, in stressful companies – felt this way a lot in the past. And the movie shows that there is a way out, and the way out is not necessarily escaping or resigning: much rather, it is about fixing what's hurting in the relationship between you and your deeper self. And I know, it sounds so counterintuitive, perhaps even irritating, when someone suggests that if you're stressed, then you can deal with it internally. It's not my fault! – I am stressed about the next deadline! A difficult client! The next presentation! And it's true, there are always external factors that push our buttons, but those buttons are still there inside of us, and dealing with those would provide a longer-lasting solution. Just like it did in the case of Christopher Robin.
The "glue" that is missing from Christopher Robin's life is a sense of his real self, it is an emotional connection to his own inner child. He is afraid to feel – he is afraid to re-experience childhood sadness and fears, and therefore he shuts himself off unconsciously from his inner self. But with that, he is also stopping himself from loving. From being creative. Innovative. From enjoying life. From having a meaningful relationship with his wife. From being able to talk with his daughter on her level. From being able to provide his daughter with the emotional nurturing that she needs and deserves. In short: he may seem to have a stable life, but in fact he is paying a very big price, for he is missing out on life itself. And the thing is: we can only do this – not listening to our heart and missing out on life – for a while, at one point it "catches up with us", just like the movie's tagline says. And when it catches up, in better cases it just gently nudges us in the direction of looking into our issues and healing ourself, but unfortunately quite often we don't listen to it for way too long, until it actually pushes us off the cliff in the form of a major life crisis.
The 'gentle nudge' for Christopher Robin comes in the form of Winnie the Pooh, who is a manifestation of Christopher Robin's inner child. He needs help, and he visits Christopher, shocking him out of his normal daily routine. He does that in his own, sweet and gentle way, but if you look behind the appearance, he is also quite determined: he will not allow to be neglected anymore. He demands Christopher's attention. He needs to be fed. He needs to be reconnected in his relationships (his friends). And all throughout the story, he keeps asking seemingly silly but in fact, very poignant questions. In short: the inner child calls the adult to heal some hurts, and when things start crashing down (both literally and figuratively, in almost every scene of his life) the adult has no choice but to answer the call. So he goes back to the place of his childhood and thus revisits his childhood, because that is where the roots of his present challenges lie.
I love the way this stepping back into his childhood self is portrayed. Winnie the Pooh, on their train ride to the countryside, plays the game of naming everything that he sees in the landscape: a house, a cloud, a tree, a house... The child is in the now. The adult is annoyed, the adult is planning for the future – and not allowing himself to be in the present moment (this will change by the end of the movie). This observation, that Winnie the Pooh does, is very similar to present-day mindfulness techniques, in which you observe objects – your breath or body sensations or outside objects or really anything, that can help you become present in the here and now – as a means of turning inward, into your feeling self. No wonder many companies are already teaching mindfulness techniques to their employees – it makes them more relaxed, cooperative, creative and innovative! After the train ride, Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh step back into the childhood through a hole in a tree. It is a recurring symbol in many cultures and shamanic traditions, that there is a hole at the roots or the trunk of the tree representing the Tree of Life. That hole leads you to your subconscious, the the 'underworld', where the roots of all of your existence lie.
Christopher Robin's subconscious is the Hundred Acre Wood, and we quickly relize that there is indeed a problem: the wood appears ill. It is gloomy and foggy, and the friends are nowhere to be found. And more and more, we get a sense of a fear looming in the woods, which turns out to be a fear of Woozles and Heffalumps: the imaginary monsters of the forest on the surface level, but Christopher Robin's very real fears on the deeper level. His fears of his own father, which appear in a symbolic form – and can therefore be also healed in the same form. At first, Christopher refuses to meet these fears, the adult keeps insisting that Heffalumps don't exist, but then he falls into a Heffalump trap, which seems silly, but will end up doing just that: forcing him to face his fears. In a series of superbly crafted symbols, a storm comes, Christopher finds himself at the bottom of a muddy lake. In a trance-like state, he meets the Heffalump, faces it, and can finally let go of him. And as a consequence, when the storm passes, he resurfaces from the lake as a new person – ready to revisit the things in his life that need to be mended. The deep, dark, murky lake is a common symbol in fairytales. It is connected to the Scorpio archetype and is therefore a symbol of "death", transformation, of letting go of fears, expectations, thought patterns that were limiting us up until now. Many fairytale characters also sink into, or are pulled into deep, dark lakes, only to re-emerge as newly reborn people. This is the same thing that happens to Christopher Robin.
Christopher Robin meets his other friends – Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and co. – but they don't recognize him. Why is that? I would argue, that they all represent parts of his soul, and they don't recognize him because he has lost touch with his true emotions. I am aware that there is a popular fan theory linking each Winnie the Pooh character with mental disorders – whether true or not, I don't see that represented here in this movie. In my interpretation, as children, we have a much more live, powerful connection with our emotions, children feel sadness, excitement, joy, fear, and all others much more vividly, and Eeyore, Tigger, Rabbit, Piglet stand for these emotions. And Christopher Robin needs to find his way back to them, and he finally finds it by allowing himself to play.
Having reconnected with his emotions is an important achievement. But at this point in the story, the process is not yet fully finished, as Christopher still needs to find a way to re-plant, reintroduce his inner child into his everydays, most notably: in his job. Since he is not yet ready, he will still have to go through obstacles in order to finally reach a satisfying, sustainable conclusion. There are so many other interesting points worth noting: the quest of the daughter to save her father (and, in general, alarm bells should always go off, when a child takes on their shoulder the weight of saving their parents), and how this ultimately leads to her also reconnecting with her child self. The story is even generous enough to allow that father-wound to further heal by means of presenting a positive father figure in the character of the elderly company owner. He is strict, but also fair, and has the ability to listen (and above all, the child in us needs to be heard) and is adaptable: open to changing his perspectives. In short: it is the part of the father that Christopher Robin did not receive earlier.
Was it worth the journey? The pain, the fear of meeting that inner child? The movie shows us many aspects in which Christopher Robin's life changes to the better: his family, his priorities, his relationships with others. But even if we just look into his work performance, the benefits are obvious: facing his fears not only allowed him to stand up to his boss (and trust me: when you are stressed about delivering to your clients' or bosses' expectations, more often than not, you are also in fact dealing with a subconscious fear stemming from your childhood), but it also allowed him to access a new source of creativity. So connecting him with his inner child also helped him find an innovative, new, "out-of-the-box" solution to the problems of his company. Bottom line is: without a good connection with your inner child, it is very difficult to be a complete adult too. So if you feel that your life is on autopilot, if you feel that you have lost your way, your self, if you feel unmotivated in your work or uninvolved in your relationships... then please: find a way, any way, to talk with your Inner Child today, and give him/her a big, warm bear-hug.