Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are - a personal interpretation

It's been over a year since I've written in this blog, but seeing as my "official" website is down, I've come back to blogging on the blogspot.

First things first: this post won't be a review of the film, nor of the book. If you want to know whether you should spend the money to go watch the film, don't ask me. I did, and in my opinion, it was worth every penny of both mine and Alex's ticket purchase. Instead, this post is my personal analysis and reconciliation of the book, the movie, and myself.
The wild things in Maurice Sendak's book are scary. There is something about the way the creatures are drawn that gives me chills, even disturbs me a little. Max encounters them fearlessly, however. They are his wild things, created from his imagination. He subdues and rules over them, befriends them and plays with them. In the film, the wild things are, by contrast) very lovable. Still giant monsters, their representation in three dimensions, their expressive faces, and their distinct personalities makes them each very easy to empathize with. Their voices, however, bring them to life. The inflections in their manner of speaking, subtle changes in their tone, and masterful reading of the script can all be praised as marvelous acting, but it was the frantic, desperate cries and dialogue which makes them true wild things. I found myself getting teary-eyed as each one's character was revealed, because in them I saw and heard the wild things in me.
In Spike Jonez's film, these monsters were blatantly and unapologetically the monsters found inside each and every one of us. Our primal anxieties, fears, insecurities, all manifested in their rawest, most concentrated forms. These are the emotions that come from what scientists would call the reptilian part of our brain, our basest instincts. We live with these everyday, yet rarely stop and look at the wild things within, often letting them romp about our lives, building up fortresses, instigating chaos. These traits are hidden in the characters in the original children's book, but as I watched the film, something resonated within me as these monsters' tempers flared, as they broke down crying, threw their tantrums, and withdrew within themselves.
It was clear to me within the first few minutes that the film was not going to be a film for children, but rather a film for the child within all of us: a film that forced us to explore the wild things within ourselves. These concepts might be lost on children who do watch this film. Sadly, many children these days aren't brought up to understand their wild, dark side. It frightens me often when I teach (yeah, I kinda teach) and find that most of the kids would rather be playing their mindless video games than exploring the fascinating natural world, the infinite cosmos without, and the infinitesimal cosmos within. Could much of what is diagnosed as behavioral disorders very well be due to an ineptness to tame the wild things within? Perhaps instead of drugs to correct behaviors we could encourage a conversation with the wild things, perhaps they will make us their king? If the the wild in us is the remnants of an ancient brain, then perhaps reason and creativity, the products of an evolved brain, can rule over these emotions?
But neither book nor film ends with harmony between the king and the wild things. They both explore what is perhaps our inability to contain the monsters. Echoed throughout the film is the idea of endings. We are reminded that the sun dies, that rocks erode to sand, to dust, and, "and then I don't even know what comes after dust." That which is most solid in our lives will someday crumble; that which is most constant will someday cease. I was personally reminded of the death of my faith.
In an interview on NPR's Fresh Air, Spike Jonze explained to Terri Gross that Maurice wanted him to make something personal. "You can't care what anybody else thinks, you just got to make something that's personal to you," said Maurice. This, I believe, is the true heart of art. There are, and no doubt will be, countless conplaining that the film strays drastically from the book. On the contrary, Jonze argues that he just went deeper into what was presented in the book, reading between the hatch lines, if you will.
So do I recommend this film? If you are willing to explore the depths of your darkest emotions, cry a little, laugh a little, then this film is right for you. If you want a cookie cutter film with a happy ending, perfect resolution, and nonthreatening ideas, go watch something else. As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey through night and day, in and out of weeks, and almost over a year to where the wild things are.

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