Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"I took my lucky break and I broke it in two..." WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

Where The Wild Things Are-2009-Spike Jonze


Without pandering to any sort of audience, Maurice Sendak wrote a beautifully transcendent children's book about imagination, loneliness, and love. He did so in a mere 10 sentences, with some splendid illustration, and for 46 years it has been captivating children and adults alike.

In the early 90's, Spike Jonze started directing short films and music videos, eventually gaining notoriety for his imaginatively creative narratives in such short pieces of filmmaking. His work with The Beastie Boys, Weezer, and Fatboy Slim comprise some of the best music videos made during the last decade of the 20th century. In 1999, he made his feature film debut with a dark, cynical comedy called Being John Malkovich, written by the illustrious Charlie Kaufman. He followed that up with another Kaufman collaboration, and one of my favorite films of all time, Adaptation.

Fast forward to October 2009, both of these men; creative, genius, masterful at their art, have converged. Jonze, with the help of co-writer Dave Eggers, has adapted Sendak's classic into a dark piece of cinema. After 3 years of battling with the studio over the vision of the project, and spending all of 2009 to hype it with the help of Arcade Fire, it has finally graced us with its presence.

The story, if you are totally oblivious, follows a young boy named Max. He is vulnerable, lonely, but an incredibly caring individual. After having a terrible day Max wants the attention of the only person who really seems to love him, his mother. When he doesn't understand why she won't constantly listen to him, he lashes out in a fit of anger; "I'll eat you up!" He screams to his mother while energetically dodging her every attempt at stopping him from destroying anything. After biting his mom, he runs out of the house, and into his imagination, where he takes a small boat out into the ocean, to the island of the Wild Things.

Upon reaching the island, Jonze had a lot of room for interpretation, as in the book, there is very little said on the island. Each Wild Thing has a personality of their own. And they are all incredibly in need of therapy. With childlike interplay, Max is able to keep them all from eating him. He proclaims he has a sadness shield and is a king, they make him their king.

What Jonze is able to do on the island is something few people would have been able to accomplish. He allows for each Wild Thing to have their own specific personality, but each one's personality can be traced back to a piece of Max's sadness. Carol, voiced wonderfully by James Gandolfini, deals with his pain with anger. He lashes out by destroying things, or yelling at people. Max and Carol bond more than any of the others.

Carol: It's going to be a place where only the things you want to happen, would happen.

Max: We could totally build a place like that!

When Max becomes King, he is forced to confront all of the Wild Things in ways he never expected. When they complain about still being sad, after he promised them happiness, he gets angry. The self proclaimed downer of the group, Judith(Catherine O'Hara), even berates Max, exclaiming; "Happiness isn't always the best way to be happy."

What we see here is the idea, made famous by Thomas Moore, of a Utopian vision. A place where there would be no more sadness or pain, no more suffering or loss. Jonze and Eggers show that there is no such thing as a Utopia. It is part of maturing or growing up to realize that life will never be perfect. Perfection just isn't something that is of our world, even if that world is wholly imagined, it is impossible to attain.

With Carol's insecurities about one of the Wild Things, KW, leaving, because she found new friends, when he is seemingly in love with her, we find the conflict that has caused all of the Wild Things to be in such a sad state. Max's conflict was caused, in part, because of his mothers new boyfriend, and him losing the attention he craved from her. He simply didn't understand. Here we find Max's parallel.

In a scene, involving Max and KW, in which some viewers might find gross or weird, Max is reborn, in a sense, and finally understands that his mother also is in need of love. Not just from him.

If there are any problems with the film, it lies near the end. There is a dramatic build when Max is going back to reality that, while heart stirring , yes, seems somewhat manipulative compared to the rest of the film. The music builds and crescendos and it felt somewhat forced, but I can't say I didn't fall for it hook, line and sinker, and would gladly do so again. It got a little misty in the theater, I will say.

Criticisms that have stemmed about this being a children's/family film, and having such dark material, must be from those who have obviously not read the book in awhile. While Sendak's illustrations are a bit more brightly colored than the Wild Things are in the film, the few sentences they say certainly lean towards less than childlike appearances. Especially when Max first arrives and the book states he was greeted by the Wild Things gnashing their teeth and roaring their roars and so on. And while king, Max feels lonely.

Jonze has captured that in a unsanitized way. He seems to have made an honest and meaningful piece of art that draws parallels to Wizard Of Oz, Alice In Wonderland and even that 1989 Fred Savage/Howie Mandel classic Little Monsters. It is definitely a kid's film, because it deals with the feelings kids so often have, that most children's "art" is afraid to deal with in our culture of Santa Clauses and Easter Bunnies, we can't fathom our kids finding truth and meaning from something scary. Real life is scary and while I wouldn't condone forcing a kid to sit through it out of torture, if the kid truly was scared, I wouldn't hide it from them either.

As mentioned in those previous family films, Dorothy is caught in a tornado and almost killed by a witch. Alice must deal with some creepy things, as well as be threatened by the queen to have her head cut off! How are these things child friendly, but not loneliness?

In this day and age, artists like Spike Jonze are important, because they use their art as a mirror for us to see ourselves in. Where The Wild Things Are is about so much more than all the words I wrote before it, it is foremost about love, and how we deal with the feelings that love causes. In the end, without using any words, Jonze offers us the answer that unconditional love is the most beautiful and hopeful thing we could ask for, remember; "and it was still hot."


Fletch said...

Great all-around review here. Well done, sir.

Dead Pan said...

Thanks Fletch! I'm still awaiting your review.

Fletch said...

I'm thinking of procrastinating for some time, then crapping out something short and meaningless in a few weeks, by which time I'll have forgotten anything interesting I might have had to say about it.


Or maybe I'll write something up this weekend...

Joshua said...

Thank you for this post, really worthwhile info.
top online mba programs | san antonio tx family lawyer | Brisket recipes | doctorate degree in psychology | mesothelioma attorneys