Thursday, May 5, 2011

Where the Wild Pixels Are.

It constantly amazes me how people identify with the Maurice Sendak book  
Where the Wild Things Are. I always keep copies behind the register for the times we are holding book drives for charitable organizations. Time and again people will come up, point at the book, say, "I remember that book!" and immediately add it to their order for donation. All this for a book in which nothing happens! The kid misbehaves, is sent to his room, in which, ostensibly as a dream, it turns into a forest, with a boat, with an island, with Wild Things on it. He plays, jumps, hangs from vines (on pages with no words) and then gets unhappy for whatever reason, and goes home.  With his supper still hot.  And yet so many people love this book. It's odd, because I don't remember ever reading the book as a child, and when I read the book, it really didn't stick with me as something major, like, say, Harold and the Purple Crayon, which is an amazing book and speaks volumes about the children's imagination. And yet something has connected in the psyche of the people reading it, for it won the Caldecott Medal for picture books. It must be something special.

So I go see the movie in the theatre, walk into the cinema room, and I'm the only one there. I loved it!!  I sang with the songs, howled with the Wild Things, cried at the end. It was an utterly spectacular movie, my favorite now, and it comes from a book that is empty of most literary devices. See here for a review of the movie.

To round out the multimedia trilogy, I finished the video game for the PS3. And I (big shock here) loved it, too. I loved it for the same reason that everyone hated it.  The platform game is simplistic, with few weapons or items to use. It is offline only, for one player, and the enemies consist of bugs and shadow gunk things. But it's a return to the Island where the Wild Things live. And the programmers make the Wild Things just like those in the movies, with the exact same personality, but they further them into the archetypes that they have been built around (on that later). It is escaping into a world where you (as Max) are completely alone with these giant furry thingees, and you get to experience the wonderment of this world without having to worry about PKers or other crap from the outside world. Every time KW or Carol gets stuck, I was emotionally drawn to freeing them from the gunk and the monsters, and achieving the "trophy" that had me not save them hurt. I had to turn off the sound while they sank into oblivion.  Because the Wild Things are, as an entire set, part of Max's total psyche.  That's what makes them archetypes.  So let's look at who the Wild Things actually are.

I will freely admit that I did not come up with the idea of the Wild Things as Archetypes, although I respect greatly those that did, and will give credit where I can.  It is not the first time that characters can be identified with the universal types of people in this world.  A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh, with the characters involved, are similar in behavior to Carol, Alexander, DW, and the rest. They are analyzed in Benjamin Hoff's The Tao of Pooh (see here for a look into that book.Jacob Kreuger talked about WTWTA and the Wild Things being archetypes in his review of the screenplay. He does a great job of reviewing the uniqueness of the plot, of the characters, and what makes the movie so different from any other movie made currently.  He also explains why people either love the movie or passionately hate it. Personally, I think those that hate the movie don't understand the underlying ideas, that namely, the movie is not supposed to be a "kid's" movie, nor is it supposed to have a nice warm, fuzzy ending.  Max's life goes on, much as the hero archetype would in Joseph Campbell's Hero books, and we leave the theatre having watched him grow up, at least a little. 

The Wild Things, then, are personifications (or archetypes) of the inner self of Max (and therefore, of all of us). Kreuger goes into a little of this, but he doesn't personify all of the Wild Things.  I found another source that does this, although I don't have a name or a link for it, I thank him for sharing his thoughts on the matter. 

These descriptions fit the video game as well as the movie.  Carol is raw emotion, the ADD version of Max. Quick to love, quick to anger and react, with no thought as to the consequences. K.W. is the caring, feminine influence, which according to Krueger, also represents his mom and sister, who have developed new friends (the owls/or the sister's friends and mom's new boyfriend), and have left Carol/Max behind. Douglas is Jimmy Cricket, or the conscious that helps Carol/Max along. Alexander is the insecure, victimized Max, who is sure that he's being ignored and overlooked, who acts up sometimes just to get attention (ADD again). Then there's the couple. Ira who is the teddy bear, and Judith, who is jealous, confrontational, and represents the immature Max, who wants his mother to make him feel better and play, even when she doesn't want to.

Then there is the Bull.  You never see him in the movie, except for grunts and growls inside huts. And for being on the front cover of the book, you'd think that he would be an important character. He is the one on the beach at the end of the movie, and he says one line, "Hey, Max. When you go home, will you say good things about us?" Bull is transformed here, from the Eeyore type mopey figure to the wise voice of omniscience. In the movie (and the game), the Bull peeks around corners, on the periphery of the scene, and when you look in his eyes, he's a little scary. In how this was explained to me, the Bull represents the future Max, his masculinity, calmness, wisdom, Max as a man.  He is saying to Max, "How will you remember your childhood? What will you say about it?" But I think, most importantly, he is telling Max, "Remember."  It is so vitally important to remember the island in times when the adult world becomes overbearing.  I think that's why, above all the other Wild Things, the Bull is my favorite.  He is the guardian (at the end of the video game, he most certainly is), the watcher over Max's childhood. And he says, when necessary, "Remember." I know I will.

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