Parents say how they love to live life through the eyes of their children, and oftentimes it's to experience all over again the joys and pleasures that the world has to offer. What is often overlooked is the other unfiltered emotions, conflicted feelings, and the enormity of little things that, to adults, may now seem trivial or inconsequential. It is those exact moments not only make up the majority of Where the Wild Things Are, but also make it so unsentimentally stunning.
Director Spike Jonze has used the short Maurice Sendak text as a blueprint, but more importantly, he uses the "feeling" of reading that book for the first time — the conflicted emotions young readers may feel when they view the whimsically smiling creatures from Sendak's brush, mixed with his text in which they threaten to devour our hero with their "terrible teeth."
Upon reading it to my own children, I can still recall my parents sharing it with me, my eyes scanning over the beasts' jutting incisors, their glowing yellow teeth, and watching them prance and frolic with their newfound human friend. I felt both fear for and envy of Max, the little boy sent to bed without supper.
The film version captures that unstable feeling of wishing that such a land did indeed exist, but being only able to project upon it the limited emotional world a young tyke has.
First things first, if you enter Wild Things, expecting a zany tale of raucous, party-hungry beasts rocking to the latest Fall Out Boy single, you are most certainly in the wrong film. Conversely, if you are expecting a sequel to the Denise Richards-Neve Campbell lovefest, you are most certainly in the wrong movie.
Like the wolf-costumed Max (Max Records), the film is an art film disguised as a more commercial endeavor. Jonze had repeatedly said the film is about childhood, not a children's movie. We meet Max through a stunning tracking shot (in a film filled with many a gorgeous moment, courtesy of cinematographer Lance Acord) as he engages in various forms of age-appropriate mischief and heartbreak.
Through this set-up, we catch glimpses of all the little things that lead to Max's confrontation with his mother (Catherine Keener). They may seem mundane to adults, but they weigh heavy on his young mind. After being reprimanded, Max seeks refuge in this creature-inhabited universe. It is fitting that Jim Henson Studios created the beasts, as Max's limited exposure to “monsters” were most likely that of the Muppet variety that populated a street called Sesame.
They, too, are filled with all the same doubts, fears, anger and joys of a boy Max's age, but they have been left without a filter for their emotions, left to fend for themselves, and therefore are prone to seismic fits of rage and joy. There's Carol (indelibly voiced by James Gandolfini, quickly erasing fears of a Soprano Wild Thing), a somewhat petulant “thing” to whom Max most closely identifies, the more maternal Judith (Catehrine O'Hara) and her partner Ida (Forest Whitaker), the more rational Douglas (Chris Cooper), the mousy runt Alexander (Paul Dano), and the carefree KW (Lauren Ambrose).
It's easy to see that each embodies different shades of Max's personality and/or people within his life. But each one is an amalgam of these various players on Max's stage, and thus emerge as altogether unique characters in this alternate reality.
Shot predominantly against the natural beauty of Australia, there is an untamed feel to its setting as well. There is no candy-coated glaze to its design, nor is there any psychoanalyzing Max in an attempt to "fix" something, courtesy of the free-flowing screenplay by author David Eggers.
It all combines for an altogether unique film-going experience, regardless of the genre in which it is placed. And for those who may be frustrated by the lack of a defined arc or concrete resolution, you should perhaps return to the film's source and carefully re-read it. For there, too, is little in terms of typical narrative or definitive conclusion (after all, Max does behave horribly, but *book spoiler alert* still has his dinner made for him and delivered to his room, after all).
Where the Wild Things Are is like a more melancholy The Princess Bride (for Max does not have a loving grandpa like Peter Falk to read it to him), in that it not only captures the spirit of the tome, but it wraps it in the experience of processing it through a child's eyes.Powered by Sidelines