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Where The Wild Things Are

October 23, 2009

where_the_wild_things_are03I wrote a response to a review in The Rabbit Room about “Where The Wild Things Are” movie that turned out longer and more thorough than I intended – in fact, long enough to almost be a review itself! – and since this is a film that a lot of people are talking about, I thought I’d post it here, too.  If I were doing an actual review, I would probably have even gone a little more in-depth, but I’ll leave it at this.  For context, you can see the video review I’m responding to here. (And be sure to check out some of his other reviews – he’s one of my favorite contributors to the Rabbit Room!)

I LOVE your reviews, and not to be contradictory, but we took our kids to it, including our 6 year old, and he was rapt with attention. And it wasn’t too scary for him either. I think the PG rating is right on the money and I didn’t even think it was that dark. So for those wondering if you should take your kids, I would say that it depends on the kids.

The movie rarely if ever told us what to think or how to feel, and gave us few cues except for a couple times with the music, and so it requires more of you than we’ve come to expect from “family” movies. It’s definitely not escapist entertainment… But however you want to classify it, our little Gus – age 6 -loved it. Our 13 year old twins loved it, too. I can think of some kids I wouldn’t take to it, though, who might be a little more sensitive and be disturbed by the Wild Things – they are a group of monsters, after all.

I was dissatisfied with the ending… and then I realized it was because I wanted some kind of more definite redemption. I at least wanted the boy to say he was sorry. The last scene is very haunting because I feel like it resists falling into either ditch of weak sentimentality or trying to leave us with a moral lesson of some sort. The scene, like most of the film, just is what it is -and is there not to preach to us, but for us to wrestle with and bring our own experience to it. At least that’s how I experienced it.

I think there is only one instance of an apology in the film, and it’s only to the creature that Max most identifies with – Alexander, one who feels picked on and not listened to. It’s interesting because I think the monster Carol is the creature most like Max – temperamental, given to selfish fits of rage, unrepentant – but it’s Alexander, the weakest of the wild things, that Max identifies with the most because Max also feels not listened to, impotent, and bullied. The fact that Max is more inclined to see himself in the victim Alexander than the bully Carol, though the Alexander suffered at the hands of Max’s bullying, further demonstrated to me the self-centered nature of childhood that the film is exploring.

So many times during the film the difficult things could have simply been remedied with an apology, and yet nobody was willing to apologize. Their unrepentance multiplied the very sadness that they hoped to banish. I was annoyed with this through most of the film, but then I realized that this part of the movie rings true and that it was probably very intentional. As a parent, I’m always having to help my kids learn to say “sorry” – learning to say sorry is so hard, isn’t it? Even for adults. Maybe especially for adults. So at the end of the movie when Max fails to verbally say he’s sorry, the parent in me was internally bugged by this… mostly because I wished the mother had made him apologize, to help him learn respect for others, etc… but I think it’s better that Spike Jonze didn’t do this – I think it makes a for a truer film and it’s faithful to the book, which also always bugged me because it was the story of a naughty kid sent to his room without dinner who in the end gets his dinner anyway without every having to apologize.

But the very fact that this story wasn’t offered to us as a lesson to learn led to some great conversations during the drive home with our boys – conversations that wouldn’t have happened if the movie had wrapped everything up as a morality tale with a ribbon around it. The way it is, since it never really tells us how to feel about it, doesn’t let us close the book on it as if to say, “okay, I get what that was all about, so now I can move on…” We’re all still talking and thinking about it today.

Many parts in the film drove me deep into memories of my own childhood, like when the monster Carol describes his sadness by likening it to the trauma of losing your teeth: “You know how it feels when all your teeth are falling out really slowly … and then one day you don’t have any teeth anymore? It kind of feels like that” – I had forgotten how psychologically distressing it was to lose my teeth!  And yet we are expected to deal with these kinds of things as children.

Or even the experience of running, running, and having so much fun when all of a sudden you get hurt and the drama that comes out of processing those extreme feelings: exhilaration, anger, embarrassment.  The movie hits the mark in terms of recreating what it feels like to be a child. If nothing else, I think the movie is asking “what do you do with your feelings when you’re old enough to have fears and yet don’t know what to do with them.” The end of the world, powerlessness, isolation, rejection… it’s all in there.

So even if the movie may not have been intellectually coherent to my kids, or even me for that matter, I think it was instinctually coherent. My 6 year old Gus is losing his first tooth, and I watched him connect with the aforementioned scene… For anyone who knows our family, though, you’d know that Gus is a bit of Wild Thing himself.

Anyway, just wanted to throw my 2 cents in and encourage some parents who might be wondering if they should take their kids – it depends on your kids. And even if you wonder if they might get bored, at the very least the film offers unforgettable images and can lead to good post-movie discussions. I’ve never seen a film like it.

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