Saw “Where the Wild Things Are” tonight and though it was on my to-see list I wanted to catch “Zombieland” as this is Halloween and all. But the local theater apparently has a difficult time keeping their website up-to-date and when I got there I had three choices: “Stepfather”, “This is It”, and “Where the Wild Things Are.” I think I made the right choice considering. So what did I think?
It’s actually a very good film, just shy of great. And I say that to my shame as what it lacked shouldn’t matter but I think it’s an emotional need rather than a rational need. I didn’t think this film was scary or out of line for children – however is it rather cerebral and during the film’s down time; if your child has difficulty with interpreting symbolism or has attention deficit disorder, there will be section that will be difficult for them. However, I have to say this movie shares several shared jokes just for kids and likewise it has several shared jokes just for adults. But the movie, like Max (played by Max Records), tries to bring these two worlds together, and maybe the act of trying is more important than whether it succeeds or fails.
The film is a meditation of the young mind on a broken home. Dad is absent but tries to remain in their progeny’s life with symbolic gifts. The mother (played by Catherine Keener) is sweet and caring for her children but her attention for them, being the only bread earner, is divided by work and her own needs as a person. But to a child this is meaningless, as attention should be paid by simple referencing as her being mother and the creeping sadness and pain of life can be kept at bay by play and laughter; when something simple as a shared smile and a giggle, to Max it seems like the sun will never set – and yet it does.
After an awkward class on the solar system at school, Max comes home and is clearly disturbed; not by the abstract ending of the solar system in that day’s lesson but by the closer, but equally abstract, ending of a family, his family. This isn’t just about Max’s father being absent, but his older sister, Claire (Pepita Emmerichs) who is also pulling away from family and spending more time with her high school friends. With his mother’s busy work schedule and her dating a new man (Mark Ruffalo), these issues are shifting the simplistic need of a child and twisting them around the reality that as a child you are part of a larger world and people have other aspects of their life than just yourself.
I think we all had this realization during our childhood, some have forgotten or just didn’t think that much about it; others believe this to be profound, like discovering fire. My personal realization came when I discovered that other children had the same first name as me. I believed, as a child, that names were unique as the person, until I went to kindergarten and found out there was another “Kevin” in my class. I told him he couldn’t have my name. He punched me in the face. But that is how children think. The sun revolves around you! You don’t revolve around it. And I have heard other people share this same bookmark in their development – minus the punch to the face. So it reinforces that notion that we are not King but just a member of a whole. Here is the shared secret with children the movie has and some adults who remember this realization.
Max, in a tantrum for seeing how he isn’t the center of his mother’s attention, acts out and when admonished, he rebels with negative attention getting culminating in biting his mother. In fear of being rejected, more than being corporally punished, Max flees from home where he stumbles onto a hidden shore with a sail boat. He jumps aboard taking off for adventure. He eventually lands on an island and meets the Wild Things and through some fast talk convinces the Things that he is a powerful entity. Impressed the Things make him King and they share in affection and love as they have found someone to unite them in mutual affection. In essence Max taking up the mantel of King has filled a void that the Things felt as sadness and pain. And just like when one enters a group one sort out those you get along better than others, but the Things are petty and dislike being placed in order of favorites of Max’s affections. They hate his attention being divided by each individual Thing. Thus his kingship begins to crumble and eventually he hurts the whole society unintentionally. Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini) is the main manifestation of this pain as he lashes out at everyone when he is not given the most attention by Max. And though Max doesn’t understands immediately he does finally come to the realization that Carol is just afraid of not being loved. And really all Max has to do is tell Carol he is loved.
I left the film feeling good – reflecting on my own childhood thinking about how in the past I acted out because I had an insatiable need to be loved. I’m not sure when I came out of it. I’m not sure if I have. But I can say; I understand Max. I never chased my dog with a fork, but I have yelled at inanimate objects, still do. And nothing makes pain and sadness go away, for a little while, like being lost in a game or a good story. Also I wondered if I could get a set of wolf pajamas. But it’s probably best that I not get too caught up into Max’s dream world. After all I’m not Max. I’m Kevin.