Friday, October 23, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are

The Film: Where The Wild Things Are

The Genre: Fantasy/Drama

The Talent:Max Record, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo (barely), and the vocal talents of James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Lauren Ambrose and Forrest Whitaker-among others.

The Dealio: Well, you know, right? This was one of my favorite- and, I think, my sons' favorite- childhood books. There was just enough of the subversive and trend-bucking in it to really appeal to me...and them, I think. So, I was really looking forward to the movie version. Saw the sneaks, the trailers, the teasers, and I was overjoyed with the beauty and fitness of this merge of the written word and the artwork with the moving images. SPOILERS AHEAD! PLEASE BEWARE:
So, pardon me if I say that the first 15 minutes of the movie were really alarming. Across the board. First, I was really bothered by the tempestuous nature and raw anger and emotion of what happened in the first few scenes. I did not recall any of this from the book. But, that's okay. The larger crime for me came from the total waste of two newish elements in the beginning of the film: the half-poached role Ruffalo was given(a wonderful actor, but here, just a paper cutout with nothing to contribute. Why?) and the addition of a sister who just didn't get- or dig- Max at all (again, why was this necessary?) There is more than enough going on in this story that those two late-stage add-ons just never made any sense for me.
I despised the scenes where Max hopped on the table and screamed at his mother, then bit her. I was horrified when he ran out the door (not in the book; there, he was locked in his room and it was quite clear that this journey would be woven out of whole cloth from Max's imagination). As a mom, the thought of my child disappearing through the door, into the night, and staying gone for hours, is just too frightening to contemplate, and I was nauseated by the coupling of Karen O's cacophony of screams, ululations and howls that accompanied Max's tirades.
And then, long before he got to the land where the wild things are, I suddenly got it (well, I arrived at an understanding that seemed to make sense to me. I am sure Maurice Sendak would say- a la Marshall MacLuhan in Annie Hall 'No, you didn't get it at all. You are completely wrong'. But so be it. I accept that).
To me what I was seeing, in the wild things, especially, was a personification of Max's inner self: full of selfishness, self-centeredness, angst, turmoil and fears. Destructive and distrustful and yet, eager to please and a bit deceitful. Tender-skinned and not-very-brave, but, at bottom, wanting to do right by those closest to him. That was when I began to relax and taken in the art, the craft and the message of the film. But it was a near thing; I came very close to walking out until that last piece fell into place for me.
I especially related to the wild things individual personalities; each of them seemed to have one dominant trait, which, taken together, would form one complete child: Catherine O'Hara's Eeyore-like fatalist, full of gloom and doom, but also, quite passive-aggressive. James Gandolfini's Carol, lashing out at everyone and everything when hurt- because that is his most primitive response to everything. He is an all-or-nothing type and doomed to be misunderstood. Haven't we all felt like that at one time or another? It reminded me of what childhood- and on into teenagerism- is all about: everything is as important as everything else. Because we haven't lived enough life to be able to put things into perspective and realise that a casual glance is sometimes just that, and not a threat or challenge at all. If the underlying theme to this phase of life is: lights, cameras, action and drama, drama, drama, then Spike Jonze managed to capture that theme exactly.

The Grading Session: 3.98 stars out of 5. Not sure I would call this a kids' movie, as the book was clearly a kids' book. But it was an impressive, expressive one. I do believe that, had you not read the book, you would not have the same reaction I had (or if you are not an admittedly tender mom with 'lost kids' issues, perhaps). I really did not appreciate most of the soundtrack- especially the bits I described above. True, they were extremely apt and underscored the action on screen. Therein lay the problem for me. If what is going on, onscreen, is troubling to you, the viewer, then a perfectly matched soundtrack would emphasise this quality. And it did. But there are lovely moments throughout, too, and so, I will strive to be reasonable about the whole.
There were children of all ages in the theatre with me. Some really enjoyed the movie, some seemed bored by it. Some acted scared. But I really do think parents need to prep for a show like this by reading a wider variety of reviews. I was taking myself to the show, so I didn't prep with any reading of reviews. Thought I knew the story, was interested in how it was translated into a film. End of prep. I would definitely approach the task differently if the deal involved children of a certain age, temperament and imagination.

Lessons Learned: A child's imagination is a strange, alien and complicated realm. All sorts of ideas and emotions are filtered through their specific life-experiences. By which I mean: how they interpret what life has brought them so far. It's probably important to keep that in mind when exposing children to situations, illustrations and experiences for the first time. Sometimes, that old raincoat in the closet really does look like a big, old, scary clown. They process such things in their own personal way and create their unique life view from these imaginations. So- let's be careful out there about the Wild Things we evoke.

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