I told Ian when I walked in the door:
“My love affair with Spike Jonze continues.”
Which about sums up this film.
If my brief comments about the film ring of defense, it’s because they were cast after reading Robert Butler’s (of the KC Star) review, in which his only main complaint about the film was that the characters were ‘whiny’. While I can see how someone might take that away from this film, I really have to disagree with that being the overall final judgment of the work.
My main thesis, and what I tell everyone about ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, is that the film is about children, but not necessarily for them. That is to say, while the subject matter is kids, it’s not a kids movie. I think maybe people don’t like the film as much because the narrative is too wandering, or perhaps even absent at some parts. There is no clear purpose to a good deal of what happens on the island where Max finds the Wild Things. While this is somewhat true, I think it’s also the point of the work.
In the almost gut-wrenching opening of the movie, we see Max and his interactions with his mother and sister, as well as other children. He’s not a bad kid, just one that gets into a fair bit of trouble. Through a few select events, we learn a good deal about how alone Max feels, with his angst-ridden sister and her typically jerky friends, as well as with his mother who’s juggling work, her family, and trying to date Mark Ruffalo. With his orbit about these people being only every so loosely bound, it takes only a small push to send Max running from them as fast as he can, literally.
The remainder of the film takes place on the island of the creatures, and here is where it seems to ‘wander’. It feels this way because it seems to be the product of a type of thought experiment: What happens when Max is faced with beings as childish as himself? They act just like he does, responding to disagreement with tears, jealousy, and even rage. For the Wild Things though, all of these emotions are magnified, not just by the huge expressions on their enormous faces, but also by their outbursts which are so violent at times as to be almost terrifying.
On the island, Max is crowned king of the Wild Things after he bluffs them into believing he possesses terrible powers which they should fear. His reign consists of a small list of games and projects, none of which are seen through to fruition, and few of which do not end in an argument, tears, or a fist fight between the huge creatures. There seems to be mutiny stirring beneath the surface of Max’s happy-go-lucky little kingdom, and the more he tries to pull these creatures together, the harder they seem to push each other away.
In the end, after the goat outs Max for not being king, and instead “just a normal little guy,” Max comes to terms with the fact that these animals are really best left to their own devices, and the time’s come for him to go back to where he belongs. He speeds home on his boat, leaving Carol on the shore in tears, but understanding. I felt like that, more or less, at the end. The movie is really very sad: little is immediately resolved or fixed in the course of the film, leaving you feeling a little anxious and depressed about the whole thing, but you understand, and that helps. Everyone has felt like that at one point or another, and we all make it through.
With that in mind, I earnestly encourage anyone who doesn’t mind having their emotions knocked around a little bit in order to catch a glimpse of the human experience in the eyes of a Wild Thing to check this film out. It’s worth the time.
Additionally: ‘All Is Love is the song that’s played over the credits, and it’s really growing on me.