Where the Wild Things Are
Wild at heart
HOW MUCH of your childhood you remember is a bit of a lottery. I have friends who recall very little. As a result they struggle to understand their younger cousins, their nieces and nephews or even their own children when it comes to moods, desires, insecurities and fears. On the other hand, I have friends who recall every vivid detail, whether it was the joy of their first taste of ice cream or the pain at being ignored by their busy parents.
Stories that capture the essence of what it’s like to be young are timeless and become an instant hit with adults and children alike. Where the Wild Things Are, which is released this week as a film, is one such example of a modern classic. The original picture book was created by the American writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak all the way back in 1963, yet has remained a popular tale with many subsequent generations.
The movie, which had a great deal of input from Sendak, captures the same spirit as the book. Childhood is a frustrating, fun and slightly terrifying time where everything is experienced in a very intense and creative manner. The film is not directly aimed at children. You can definitely take them along, by all means, because there is so much to enjoy. But its primary focus is at the adults who grew up reading the story.
Where the Wild Things Are, for those who do no know, is about Max, an eight-year-old boy, who – frustrated at the lack of people to play with him – finds himself in trouble with his mother who punishes him by taking away his supper.
Sad and angry, Max soon finds himself travelling to a mysterious land where he befriends the Wild Things. They’re an eclectic mix of unusual creatures who howl, jump and run around with Max. While all this is fun, Max soon gets homesick and returns home to find that dinner is waiting for him.
Director Spike Jonze was a perfect choice to make the film. He was responsible for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, two films swirling with surreal characters, meta-themes and original story telling. But he has also made numerous music videos, all of which are full of inventiveness, enthusiasm, life and energy.
That is why this film is so enjoyable as an adult. Where the Wild Things Are reminds you of your childhood in all its sense of sheer wonder and discovery. Your imagination is on fire and excitement is to be had around every corner. This is not a dumbed-down kids movie.
Its premise is not too dissimilar to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – cooped-up kid vanishes into fantasy other-world only to return and discover no time has passed. But while the Narnia books were filled with that sense of marvel, the Narnia movies just felt as though the kids had stumbled onto the unused sets of Lord of The Rings. If only Jonze had been allowed to inject his thrilling vision into the Narnia films, more adults would have been interested.
At the heart of Where the Wild Things Are, are the Wild Things themselves. They have been perfectly created, resembling their illustrated originals down to the last hoof, horn and scale. But it is their relationships which bring the soul to the film. They are complex, insecure beings. Max struggles to understand them although they make him their king. He soon realises being in charge of everything is a lot harder than he thought. It’s not easy to make everyone happy all of the time.
It is these complicated relationships between the Wild Things which appeal to an adult audience and may leave kids wondering why there isn’t more mud throwing.
Max’s time with the Wild Things is pure fantasy. It is a land of all environments – sunny when Max is happy, snowing when he is sad. He learns about the perils of selfishness and being destructive. That being in charge and being allowed to do exactly what you want isn’t necessarily all that fun, especially if you are responsible for other people. As one Wild Thing, Carol, says, ‘It’s always better when we have a king.’ As Max realises, its better to have the right king – perhaps it is better when parents are in charge.
As Christians we know we have an omniscient (and righteous) king who understands and cares about our intricate affairs yet, like the Wild Things, we still allow our selfish actions to make it hard for everyone around us to get along.
At the end, of course, Max returns home to find his dinner, hot and ready for him. Personally, that is how I have always experienced the grace of God as father. Despite being self-obsessed or generally disobedient, when I miss him and return to him, I find his welcoming warmth waiting for me.
Where the Wild Things Are is well worth the watch. It’s magical, maniacal and beautifully bittersweet.