Where the Wild Things Are is perhaps my favorite childhood memory and one of the few memories I have left of my mother. Her and I would read this almost every night if we weren’t reading Shel Silverstein or Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Where the Wild Things Are was the first movie trailer to send chills down my spine mostly due to the pitch perfect soundtrack and editing and the fact that, if I had to ever imagine the creatures from Maurice Sendak’s short story come to life what I saw in the trailer would be it.
Director Spike Jonze and co-writer David Eggers have somehow managed to extrapolate a ton of subtext from a children’s story that is I believe not even 50 pages long. The film version of Where the Wild Things Are is not really a movie that most children under the age of ten should really watch. First, they simply will not get what is happening on the screen. There is no real potty humor or pop culture references to keep them engaged and the creature design put forth by the still brilliant Jim Henson Company is more frightening and dark then endearing. This film is more about being a child than a film designed to entertain children.
The story centers around a nine or ten year old boy named Max. Max is a disaffected child. His sister has outgrown him. His mother (Catherine Keener) is overworked and dating a stranger (Mark Ruffalo). He tries to get attention and in the end is denied. Like most children, he lashes out because no one has taken the time to understand him. He ends up running away from home to a land of his own fantasy and that is when we are introduced to the Wild Things.
The beauty of the film lies in how Jonze and Eggars took Max and distilled his psyche into the Wild Things and then shows these personalites through the eyes of Max. The Wild Things are always a danger to Max even if he was clever enough to convince them he should be their king. The Wild Things are essentially even more childish versions of himself. Max is essentially the adult of the world he creates.
The Wild Thing that most resembles the worst parts of Max’s personality, his fears, his need for attention, and his anger, is Carol (amazingly voiced by James Gandolfini). Carol’s need for attention and love has driven away another Wild Thing named KW (voiced by Lauren Ambrose) and now the Wild Things are sad because their family has been broken up due to selfishness. I saw this as the guilt I believe nearly all children of divorce feel (my mother passed away so I never saw a family break down in that fashion but I wondered throughout the film if my brother ever felt guilt for our mother’s cancer).
The other Wild Things are a bit harder to pin down in terms of what they represent. KW can be interpreted at parts to be either Max’s older sister or Max’s idealized version of his mother. Both interpretations can work and they kind of interchange throughout the film. Ira (voiced by Forest Whitaker) seems to represent less of a personality trait and more of the dumb stranger boyfriend of his mother. Judith (voiced by Catherine O’Hara) is the oppressive and distant reality of his current relationship with his mother. Alexander (Paul Dano) is all of Max’s insecurity and uncertainty. Douglas (Chris Cooper) is Max’s limited reason and calmness. There is a silent Wild Thing called The Bull who I took as Max’s sorrow.
The greatness of the film is that it can be interpreted in so many ways. I grew up awkward with thick ass glasses and was a bit of an outcast. I relate to Max. I relate to wanting to run away to a world I control. I still have days in my adult life I want to run away from everything. This film is one of my favorites of the year so far and I strongly recommend it.
Like anything in life, the film is not perfect. There is no real plot to speak of in my opinion as events just move from point A to point B. Most of the Wild Things aside from Carol have no real developmental arc and the soundtrack was a little off for me in places. However, this film is clearly a labor of love and I hope it succeeds. I fear that in our current movie climate this film will not be a financial success as it requires thought and attention in order to be appreciated.
The above image was taken from Lindenhurst Memorial Library’s YA Weblog
If you are an administrator of the site and wish for me to remove this image, email me.
I hold this work to be original thought. If I have used copyrighted material please email me. I will bring it down immediately. I merely mean for this blog to be a means to discuss and dissect my favorite things.