Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are: a review

I have to say I walked into the theater with almost no expectations. I had heard so many mixed things about the movie I wasn't sure what to think so I just plunked myself down in a chair and thought, I'll go with it. 

Go with it I did. From the moment Max's costume-clad frame comes tearing around a corner, I was in. There is something about those opening scenes (and inevitably, the movie as a whole) that makes you feel as though you are that child. You are Max. I loved that the camera held true to Max's height so that it looked like you were seeing the world through his eyes, exactly as he saw it.  

The movie made me remember what it felt like to be a child. And no, it wasn't nostalgic. Sure there is a whimsical element to the film but the truth is that I felt sadness, loneliness; I felt like those monsters. I remember how close anger and sadness were as a child, how one could quickly morph into the other. I remember the supreme sense of possibility, of dreams, of anything- is- possible and simultaneously the complete, crippling inability to do anything, the lack of resources. The freedom and the dependence. The safety and the fear. The bold, brilliant desire to be heard, respected, valued and the growing confusion (suspicion, actually) that you may not be as different as you once thought you were. 

The sets were beautiful. Magical and fantastical without being frilly. I found Max's dialogue to be superb: exactly the thought process of a child. And some of it was silly. Very silly. But I did not feel as if I was laughing at him. I was laughing, actually, at the completely nonsensical expression of a nonsensical world. Which, of course, makes it all perfectly sensible. 

There were some really lovely details like Max's mother typing out the story he narrates (go home literacy!) and the way Sendak's lines were worked into the script. 

In the end I'll admit, I had some tears in my eyes. I loved the scene in which he returns home and his mother simply looks at him. Like he's the only thing in the world that matters. I loved their whole relationship, actually, what little we saw of it. I loved that I was torn between wanting to tell Max it would be OK and wanting to tell his mother the same. I wasn't sure who needed the words more which I thought was complete brilliance. I left feeling deeply, the kind of all-encompassing feeling that hits you, right in the sternum. Childhood is hard and anyone who says differently just hasn't been reminded of it in awhile... so why then did I get up from my chair feeling sad that we all have to grow up? 

1 comment:

  1. I found the dialogue so refreshingly honest. It was child-like without being childish, and at the same time so mature and profound that this movie couldn't help but tickle your heart.

    Max goes on an extraordinary journey. When he arrives he's talking himself up; all of those magical powers he possesses alerted me to his home-life, that he doesn't have a dad. Sometimes, when a child doesn't have a father they fantasize about everything a father can do. Because to children, fathers (and mothers!) are gods. They can do anything. And Max thinks of his own absent father that way, and to his surprise, the monsters think of him that way. Max becomes their father. At first, this is incredibly liberating for Max but then the burden of perfection weighs on him.

    When Alexander, the goat, tells Max that he didn't believe there was anybody out in the world that had the magical powers Max claimed he had, Max realizes that he may not necessarily be better off with a father, because a father would inevitably upset him at some point too. His father would be just like his mother, who he also realizes that he misses, and loves dearly. This is why Max leaves the island of the Wild Things. Though I think in the book he's chased away, but the message is the same. That he must leave behind his childhood anger, in the personified image of the Wild Things but specifically Carol. It is sad, but also, the movie's important and encouraging.

    In a way, more so than the book.

    I remember the book vaguely. Max is being disobedient and is sent to bed without any supper (an archaic punishment). In his room he dreams up the Wild Things, though the line between fantasy and reality is as distinctly blurred as it is in the film. The main difference is that his mother doesn't know he's gone, and therefore Max's leaving isn't a punishment to her. Also, when Max returns, from the place she didn't know he was at, his mother brings him dinner, thus negating his punishment.

    But, again, I haven't read it in a while. I should go out and get a copy.

    I, too, found the movie beautiful, nostalgic, and sad. It was definitely a time-machine.