Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Where the sad and self-absorbed things are....

I've been anticipating this film for such a long time, and finally we went to see it last Sunday. The previews had given us an enticing promise of magic. Spike Jonze's Wild Things are magnificent and believable, and the actor who plays Max is brilliant.

Overall, though, it just didn't sit comfortably with me. Pete and the children - who admittedly hadn't built up the expectations that I had - were also disappointed and at times bored. I found it simultaneously brilliant and annoying.

Many years ago, before having children, I wrote a university paper on Where the Wild Things Are for a children's literature unit I was studying. I pulled apart the structure of the book to reveal the clever way that Sendak builds the action, the rhythm and symmetry of text and illustrations from beginning to end, and discussed theories of who and what the Wild Things may represent. Elements of Max's psyche? Representations of the over-enthusiastic older relatives of the young Maurice Sendak?

When my children were small, I couldn't wait to read the book to them. We enjoyed the way it sounded when read aloud. We knew the words by heart, and we loved the rambunctious and irrepressible Max. When our own Max was small, we would say to him, "We'll eat you up, we love you so", and he would always answer, in a loud and cheeky voice, "NO!"

But... for the possibly hundreds of times I read it to my three, not once did I stop in the middle and force them to endure a discussion of the meaning of the book. The film starts out with promise - nice soundtrack, and Max is perfectly and beautifully portrayed. We expected the story to be embellished - after all, a mere handful of sentences had to become a screenplay somehow. When Max sailed to the land where the wild things are, I was full of excited anticipation. And when they occurred, the wild rumpuses didn't disappoint.

What did disappoint, though, were the lengthy, drawn out scenes in the middle of the film. Although interspersed with moments of brilliance (Max's fanciful lies that make him king, the impressive fort he helps the wild things build, the creatures sleeping in a huge, messy pile), for much of the time it felt slightly awkward and uncomfortable, like watching a daytime pop-psychology television programme. Or like the director's ego was showing. Somehow, this magical land had been transformed into the land of sad and self-absorbed things, full of Eckhardt Tolle's popular "pain bodies", each paralysed by their various issues.

I know that many will say that Jonze is making a comment on the self-obsessed nature of adults today, loss of childhood innocence and all that... but to me it seemed that in thinking too hard about the wild things, he managed to compromise much of the beauty and magic that was in the film.

Ok, rant over. And having gotten all that off my chest, I'll probably give it another chance - to see if I was being too harsh the first time. The next time, though, I'll be careful to keep separate in my mind Where the Wild Things Are the simple-yet-complex, much loved book, and Where the Wild Things Are, the $32 million dollar Hollywood film. And we'll watch it at home, so the children can come and go as they please, and choose whether to sit through the boring bits...


Rachael B said...

Oh how disappointing. We have also loved the book. I think we might wait for it to come out on DVD. Thanks for the review.

vivian said...

oh nooooo!! i have just bought tickets to go see it with the girls next week! haha.. i'm sure we'll still enjoy it. will we? ;)

random thoughts said...

I agree with everything you said, sometimes the magic is in the very words on the page that allow us to create our own imagery, something that money can not buy. When reading the book with my kids, it was always that 'Where the Wild Things Are' is where ever you want it to be for you.