Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are

Heretofore referred to as Wild Things, because that's the name of Dave Eggers' book.

A week or so ago, I read Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, perhaps for the first time. I don't remember reading it as a child. I understand the special psychological significance it plays in children's lives, at least, those who read it in the days when playing the latest version of Halo wasn't more important. When fantasy consisted of something much more than sticking a CD in a box.

I have never been so grateful that my grandmother (my mom's mom, who lives with us now) sewed blankets as a pastime. For those blankets became the rooftops for the forts we would build. All over the living room, using the footstool and the recliners and the divans (sofas) for walls. Or the time when Chris and Brad spend the night and we built a fort all throughout our basement and going up the stairs. It's this type of fantasy worlds which tie in Sendak's book with the current movie, along with all the fantasies, terrible and comforting, that reside in our minds.

So as I said in the review of the soundtrack (which is almost vital that you get prior to watching the movie), it is what it is. Meaning, Wild Things is nothing less than a portrait of all the fantasy worlds and dreams and nightmares that exist in our heads. That, mixed with the rage of injustice, the wildness of the subconscious mind, the desire to be something more or less than human, since humans do so many things that are unjust, cruel, and wrong. Wild Things is the quest to bring Love to a world where it doesn't always survive. Where, for most people, there never is a happy ending. For those that understand, Wild Things becomes a mirror into our own subconscious minds, where monsters lurk and become nightmares, or where the core things that make us all human, good or bad, reside.

To give a simple plot review for this movie would not do it justice, this masterpiece of art sewen into a medium which would give it the most life. It was an experience for me which showed me things about myself I hadn't realized. Let me share.

The movie theatre was dark, and I was there, basically alone. I could interact with the film however I wanted, so I sang with the soundtrack, whistling and humming whenever necessary, as I watched the journey of Max (Max Records) from reality to fantasy and back. I cried at the end, something I've only done once before, Pay It Forward, back in 1999. Which, by the way, also received the same critical ambiguity that Wild Things did, for the same reasons, but more on that later.

I walked out of the theatre to the cold, windy afternoon, and walked through the mall to my car, and I became painfully aware of the jacket I had on, the black one with the Autobot symbol on it. I had been, and still am, the child Max with the Wolf costume on. But in my generation, it wasn't monsters and folk tales that I had been familiar with, drawn power from, but Transformers. Max received a false sense of security, of power, in the costume of a Wolf, with teeth, and claws, and howls. So did I, believing that if in a world where Optimus Prime lived, it would be safe. So on the playgrounds of my elementary school, I was a Transformer (or Thundercat, depending), and I had the power to save the world, to keep away bullies, to be more than myself. I wasn't just a boy. This is the exact parallel that Wild Things hopes to achieve. The blurring of fantasy and reality is all around us, whether as children, or as adults.

And that's a good thing. If you take a look at the reviews in other places, you'll find that they are either lauding a masterpiece, or offended that it wasn't a "kid's movie" and that Max should be sent to some sort of child psychiatrist, or something. From this, you can see which people took the movie in, made it a part of themselves, realized how personal a film it actually is. Those others, who have lost their childhoods and only cared about if it entertained the little ones for an hour or two while they went about their own lives, they are the ones that protested that it wasn't a children's movie. Well guess what, they're right. It's not. At least, not for them. But for those of us who are children still, with that glowing essence of innocence and childhood still left in our hearts, it was a wonderful, horrifying, transcending work that left us, for a moment, aware of the fantasy world, and how mixed up the real world is.

For those that loved the movie, try John Connolly's Book of Lost Things, which achieves the same special qualities that Wild Things does.

Will Max hang up his wolf costume, not make believe in forts and animals and whatnot? Of course not. He will just know why he does it. I will too.

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