Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Mad Max and the Wild Things

I thought I would go ahead an throw in my thoughts on Where the Wild Things Are, since it has already spurred some discussion here.

I have never really read the book - not that all that much reading is required. I'm just say that if you consider it an adaptation, which it is, that's fine but it (and any associated nostalgia) figures very little into my opinion of the film. That being said, adapting that book must have been quite an undertaking, so I'll give Jonze some props from the start. It did take a while for me to digest this movie, including one discussion with Agust - and I'll also consider that to be a good sign. It's somewhat of a perplexing movie, but I'll attempt to explain some of my thoughts on it.

Where the Wild Things Are is a film that I expect Generations X and later to especially appreciate. That is because I viewed the film as a kind of catharsis for those generations. Many of us have experienced growing up in a broken home, just like Max. We don't know where his dad is, and as is often the case in real life, that doesn't matter - what matters is how the absence of a parent can affect a family. Kids have to grow up faster. The remaining parent's day can be heavily divided into "me-time" and "family-time." There is a struggle with wanting to feel and act normal, even though you have the nagging feeling that you and your family are deficient, even though that certainly does not have to be the case. I can speak to this as I grew up in Max's shoes. My family was a mother and an older sister. I recall being jealous of my sister's "cool" friends monopolizing her time. I remember hearing my mom and her date's voices in the living room. I remember my group of imaginary friends and the comfort they could be at times. Today, broken homes are just as normal as "whole" homes. And that has had a big influence on our self-image, our views of relationships, and our general outlook on life, among other effects. And by no means do you need to have been in a broken family to have experienced such sentiments. Accordingly, I thought of Max as the manifestation of recent American generations.

Unable to express himself, or even control himself, when things do not go as he wishes, Max runs away to another world. There he meets a group of Wild Things. These are imaginary creatures who act as the group of friends that we never get to see Max have, if he even has any friends. These Things act just as though they were under the operation of a young boy. Each of them are representative of a kind of child I knew on the playground of my elementary school. There was a bossy girl, the big and scary and quiet guy, the under-assertive kid, the all-around good guy, and so on. And the Wild Things even act like children. Their interactions are childish. They play kids' games. They fight and talk like kids. They even have the short-term memory of kids. In this way, Jonze did not push the Wild Things too far. He always remember that they exist in Max's mind, and there are accordingly very few inconsistencies.

The two most important Wild Things are Carol and KW. Carol and Max become quick friends, but Max finds out that everyone is upset that KW has been spending less time with the group. She has found cooler friends to hang out with. They are just as upset as Max is that his older sister, Claire, has done the same thing with him. They used to be a happy family, but she had to ruin it all by getting her own friends and growing up. Such is Max's problem with Claire. Such is Carol's problem with KW. I think the analogy between those four characters is pretty strong and a main part of the movie.

Max is in a unique position. He's created this world, which kind of takes on a life of its own. Carol acts as Max. KW acts as Claire. The other things act as friends. But Max is able to see himself. He's able to see how he treats Claire. He's able to see how "childish" he can be at times (granted he is a child). He's able to see how he can unintentionally hurt the people he cares about - like he hurt his mother and like Carol hurt Douglas. It's in my understanding of the movie as a boy's opportunity to view and interact with his psyche in this way, that I have come to really appreciate it. You could get into a discussion of Max's blameworthiness, but I think that's besides the point. I don't think Max is reprimanded. Rather, he likely experiences his first self-discovery. He's taking steps toward figuring out life....and in whatever ways he can. Often, life makes no sense, so you have to make your own sense out of it. That's what kids do. That's what Max did. That's what we all continue to do.

So, if you couldn't tell, I can very much appreciate the film in these terms, which I think was what Jonze was going for. Similarly, all the voice work is superb. I loved the Wild Things and their world. I agree with Agust that the bookends of the movie are very strong. The main hiccups come in the middle of the movie, but they are not big problems for me. The problems being an issue with pacing. The events that happen in the Wild Things' world could be better structured. I'm not saying I got bored, but I was starting to run out of steam at times. My solution would have been to trim the movie runtime down a good 15-20 minutes. Don't get me wrong. The length isn't the problem, per se. But I do think the film would be transformed from "pretty good" to " really great" if it were a lean 80 minutes. Maybe even 75 minutes. Unfortunately, that kind of film only exists in cinematic purgatory, i.e. between short film and feature film lengths.

Where the Wild Things Are isn't necessarily a kids' movie. Most kids wouldn't like it. Too slow. Too boring. Most parents wouldn't like it. Too scary. Too adult. However, if there are some parents out there who think that their kids would sit through it, I think it's a film that could spur some great conversations if taken seriously. Because of who Jonze is and who Max is, I think the movie stays true to the sensibilities of a boy. Like I was saying before, I think Max's problems are real and that many people can relate to them. For a child, seeing and talking about the fact that other people experience the same things they do can be a big deal. Who am I kidding? It'll probably be a big deal for me for the rest of my life.


r. charles said...

Thanks Reid. You articulated many of my appreciations for the film, but in a more clear and personal way.

agust symeon said...

Piff! Clear and personal. Humbugg! You guys are way to soft. I´m going to go and hang with Armond White and poo poo on random things.

--------- said...

reid, i haven't seen the movie, but I thought this was well written. I can only say my niece got scared and then bored, crying, and my brother and sister in law had to leave before the end of the film.

agust, i love that you commented the way you did, especially when you're continually calling me overly skeptical and bitter! ha ha! I thought you were suppose to be the generous one! welcome to the dark side.