Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Movie Day Reviews

Where The Wild Things Are (2009): I was an imaginative little boy. I would doodle all sorts of interesting characters in notebooks and sketch pads. Monsters, warriors, and the vehicles and worlds they inhabited. I had a myriad of toys that were somehow congruous in the worlds I created. Transformers fought alongside Legos and G.I. Joes against the stuffed animal army; epic battles occurred in the quiet safety of my bedroom. I remember taking the battles to the next level with friends, having furious melees in the woods of Washington with sticks or dart guns.

There is a whimsical beauty to one's childhood imagination. It is a place to experience joy, hope, and a deep sense of wonder. It is also a fantasy world to escape when one feels pain or suffering; it is a safe haven, a sanctuary, the fort created in the bedroom with pillows and quilts in order to escape from the wild world. This was the simple beauty of Maurice Sendak's children's book of ten sentences. A rambunctious boy named Max is sent to bed without supper. What follows could only be described in lustrous and striking pictures; words simply don't do a child's imagination justice.

When I heard that Where The Wild Things Are was being made into a film, I was elated. I had extremely high expectations going into this film. When the trailer is emotionally powerful enough to bring me to tears, it's hard not to imagine that it'll be incredible. So allow me to declare that this is a great film but not the film that I was expecting. I expected a hipster-version of a childhood classic. Instead, I was emotionally transported back to being eight years old again.

Director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers have managed to take Sendak's classic and bring it to life. Seeing Max chasing the family dog throughout the house or building an igloo in a pile of snow brings back a sense of boyish nostalgia. Yet Max's life clearly isn't perfect; it's suggested that his father is absent and his relationship with his sister is strained. He only finds security with his mother, so when she's distracted by work or a potential suitor, Max runs away. Finding a ship, he sails off into another world filled with wild things. Declaring himself king of the land, Max finds himself caught up in this wild new world.

From this point onward, the narrative loses a bit of steam. Basically, Max plays with the wild things. From the wild rumpus to building forts to throwing dirt clods, there isn't much of a story to speak of. There seems to be a lack of attention span to Max and the wild things; their emotions jump from joy to sadness in a matter of moments. Perhaps this is purposeful; most child-made activities don't consist of much more than simple actions repeated over and over, and any parent can attest that children will quickly go from laughter to crying in the blink of an eye. For some audiences, this lack of story could become tedious. It did for me at times. The beautiful visuals make up for it, but a bit of the film's affective qualities felt lost on me near the end.

I found myself wishing my son was old enough to come to the theater with me. Listening to the giggles of children at Max's antics made me feel like a kid again. I wonder what the wild things represent in Max's life. I wonder what the wild things in my life are. I wonder if they are the things outside of my authority, the things that affect me dearly yet are ultimately out of my hands. I wonder if Max's frustration at being king of the wild things is much like my frustration at a lack of control. Listening to my son's breathing as he sleeps, wondering about the man he will become, I am struck with a dual sense of fear and hope. I think Max was on to something when he realizes that he can't make everything okay for the wild things, that he isn't king of his own life, that his power is very limited. As I grow farther from my boyhood, I have to continually come back to that imagination and hope. There is a relinquishing of control, a release of pressure, and a beautiful embrace of childlike faith. Where The Wild Things Are reminds us of that hope can triumph over fear, that one can find security in the midst of pain, and that there might be a wild thing in all of us.

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