Saturday, October 17, 2009

As For Film: Where the Wild Things Are


There were moments when I was able to relate to Max, but I did so as a childish adult relates to another childish adult. Even though I have childhood memories of playing in the snow and exploring fields and forests by myself with a scepter made out of a tree branch, I don't think my emotions were as developed then as Max's are in Where the Wild Things Are.

His many emotions are manifested as dreamy monsters from another world. Sometimes he's shy, but he can talk too much too, or even go crazy and break things. He's a very complex little boy, a storyteller with a powerful imagination. But instead of letting his imagination take him to places of joyous cosmic destruction and exciting alien worlds, Max goes to a place where all of his painful emotions are extrapolated.

This is when I can't relate to Max. To be so young and so emotional is something I don't remember. I was more like Calvin. My imagination was more concerned with killing monsters than it was befriending them.

Where the Wild Things Are kind of depressed me. Watching a kid gain self-awareness at such a young age was troubling. The fun part of being a kid was the total lack of self-awareness amidst self-absorption. I always say, life is still worthwhile simply because we used to be six. Those memories are enough to keep us going through this meaningless world, where the sun will eventually burn out and we'll all forget that while we were here we just spent our time judging and being mean to each other.

But without that unaware self-absorption, life becomes unbearably painful. What Max goes through in the movie is a complete revelation of his self-absorption.

The strange thing about Wild Things is that a seemingly imaginative child is taught a very heavy and "adult" lesson, but all within the child's own mind. He comes to his own conclusions about the way life works.

How horrifying.

But maybe that's why so many people are saying that this is a movie for adults. I'm not sure if kids can actually relate to Max. As I sat in the theater, a birthday party of small children sat behind me, occasionally commenting out loud on what they were watching.

"Ohhh, look at the flowers! They're so pretty!"

"Ewwww! That's disgustiiiing! He's coming out of her stomach!"

"Aw, that looks like so much fun!"

And in those moments, I felt like the movie was succeeding. I agreed with the kids, and I felt like we were all relating to a purely human experience. Beauty, disgust, fun. It was universal. It didn't require some mature emotion to understand.

I just discovered an amazing television show on Netflix. It aired in 1987, on HBO. Jim Henson's The Storyteller. Old, dark folk tales that might scare kids, but will express themes that both adults and children can share. It is at times creepy, amazing, and deep. Things that Wild Things tries to get at, but only occasionally achieves.

I'm troubled. Sure, the visual effects of the creatures in Wild Things were amazing. Probably the most wonderful creature creations since the Jim Henson days (which is saying a lot!). But I have a feeling that this story is not for both kids and adults, as the Jim Henson productions were. The Wild Things movie is for adults, and that's it. NOT because it's "dark" or "violent," but because kids probably just won't relate to it.

So as an adult viewer, I'm going to forget that Max is a kid. Instead, I'm going to just assume that he represents my own "inner child". Who is my inner child? He's that selfish little brat who wants to be heard at all times, be the boss of everybody, do whatever he wants whenever he wants, and so on. I don't really want this person to come out very often, because he will hurt people when he does.

But sometimes, I just can't help it. I become a man-child. When I do, I look a lot like Max. I try to escape from the rest of the real people in my life and just make myself feel better in my own head. Sometimes I write stories, or draw, or play some music. I try to escape from reality and drown myself in art. And it's always a great tourniquet. I feel a lot better after some alone time.

Is that the moral of Wild Things though? As an adult, what does it mean to run away from my fears? Does it mean running to imagination and creativity, only to return to rationality once I'm settled down? Can I eat cake when I come back home?

In the end, I really enjoyed watching the movie, but I've come away from it confused (as a critic). I don't know what to do with its message. I'm not disappointed in it, but I kind of hoped that it might have been a film that would have resonated with me on a deeper level. If anything, it just made me want to go and read old Calvin & Hobbes strips and watch more Jim Henson stuff.

The film told me that it's not fun to grow up, which is true I guess. But being a kid is wonderful, and Wild Things didn't really express that. Maybe it didn't want to. Why not? That's what I can't figure out.

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