I had been looking forward to seeing Where the Wild Things Are for over a year. At first, I forbade my husband from going to see the Wild Things with me.
My husband is a smart, strong, solid man. He was built on strong, solid foundations. I was built on shaky ground at best. "Solid" is not written anywhere in my history. I've always been a dreamer, while my husband has always been a profound realist. Plainly, he has about 1/8 the imagination I do. But it's a good thing. It's how we work.
I knew immediately he would not like or appreciate or have anything good to say about a movie based on a book that centers around a little kid's imagination. (Turns out I was right, but that came later)
When I was a kid, a forest very well could have grown in my room, and I could easily have sailed in and out of weeks and almost over a year. My copy of Where the Wild Things Are was worn and bent and loved only slightly less than Quick as a Cricket, and slightly more than Goodnight Moon. I related to Max. He got fed up with his old-lady mother one night, and imagined himself right onto an island filled with larger-than-life creatures, of whom he made himself king.
GQ had an interview with Spike Jonze that made me even more anxious to see the film version. I had heard that the book's author Maurice Sendak had turned down several attempts to adapt the book into a movie. Then he met Jonze.
As Sendak would later describe: “He was the strangest little bird I’d ever seen.
He had fluttered into the world of the studios, and could he not be swatted dead, I knew he would manage. I had total faith in him.”
Then I read a line that made such sense, like it was an idea that had been just waiting around, circling overhead until someone finally verbalized it:
“It just hit me that wild things could be wild emotions,” says Jonze. “It was that simple of an idea. And all of a sudden, it seemed infinite where I could go from there.”
Of course the wild things are wild emotions! Are there any emotions of a 9 year old child that aren't wild? So, Jonze hooked up with Dave Eggers and they set out to write the story of young Max and his wild things.
I'll try not to write any spoilers from the movie here. I read a blog post from a friend who spoiled the movie, and summarized it well. Don't read it if you don't want to know specifics about the movie! But, do read it if you've seen it, because she's mostly right on.
There were, for me, a few let-downs in the film. A few unexplainable, what the? moments. There was plenty of heartbreak. In fact, the entire movie left me feeling heavy. But there was beauty and laughter. The wild things represented wild incomprehensible emotions, and they were pretty much perfect. I connected even more with the on-screen, fleshed-out Max than I did with the two-dimensional book Max. The movie was dark and heart wrenching. But I loved it in spite of, or, possibly, because of the dark and twistyness of it all.
As expected, my husband hated it. More accurately, he whispered "this sucks" at least 3 times in the first 20 minutes, then proceeded to take a nap. I will say that he couldn't even remember reading the book as a child, much less cherishing it the way I did. And I will say that as a child of divorce, I could clearly see why Max resonated with me, and not with my husband. And, I will also say that I was a very dramatic child to begin with, and distinctly remember times of utter joy that immediately gave way to inconsolable despair. (One might say I'm still a wee bit dramatic. But, you know, whatever.) And, I will say that not every grown-up-child-of-divorce -has had a hard road; and not every grown-up-from-a-shiny-happy-family is always shiny and happy; and someone doesn't have to have had concurrent wild emotions as a child to identify with a fictional child. Anyway.
I loved it. I "got" it, for the most part anyway. I could see parallels in Max's real life and in the monsters on the island. I got that Jonze and Eggers were leading us into this huge allegorical theme. While I loved it and my husband hated it, the couple that went with us ended up feeling merely, "meh" about the movie.
So all the anticipation, all the waiting, all the teeny tingles of excitement were pretty much worth it. And that was that. I didn't need to read any more reviews or making-of's. I hadn't planned on exploring the movie any further; I was (for the most part) satisfied.
And then my friend posted a link on her Twitter about critic-haters. (Because really, it's all about my Twitter these days, isn't it?) And then I read a short (hater) review. And then I had to write this (dang long) post. Because, OK, it's within your rights to NOT want to see a movie, and then go about not seeing it. But you can't really review and/or critique a movie YOU HAVEN'T EVEN SEEN!
So here, blow-by-blow (because I hear some short people waking up from naps) are my answers to this ridiculous article:
"the movie Where The Wild Things Are isn't for the kids the book was written for."
Isn't it though? Isn't it for me? For my mother? For the grown-up kids that have been reading and rereading the book since its publication in 1963? From every promo or trailer I've seen, the film isn't exactly being marketed as a "kid-friendly romp" or "the best semi-animated kid's movie all year" and it's certainly not being lauded as "best comedy of 2009."
And I certainly don't want the monsters Max meets on his imagined voyage to have
I can't help but wonder if Mr. Sendak envisioned back stories for his monsters. I've yet to hear any author (kid-lit or otherwise) say "I intentionally wrote flat, lifeless, one-dimensional characters. Boring is better!" At the risk of sounding like a whiny teenager, um, HELLO? These monsters live on an island? They make a little boy their king? You don't think they have ISSUES? They don't deserve a little HISTORY?
The monsters are wild sketches of imagination. That is all he and they should be. When movies fill in the outlines of stories like these with details, they push out our own individually imagined renderings
Here is where I'd say, "Hey friend, tell me what YOU thought about this book. What did you get out of it? What if these monsters are metaphors for all the big scary things a kid has to face these days?" And here is where you'd answer me, with your own individually imagined renderings. And I'd either think, hey that sounds good, or, hey, you sound like a buffoon. Your "version" of Max's psyche and the meaning of the monsters would not have to alter my own version.
Maybe the trailer... "was all we ever needed of a real Max on screen. It intrigues without overanswering. Unlike the movie."
And this is the loudest point I'd like to make: the mover certainly doesn't overanswer. In fact, in ways, it absolutely underanswers. There is no finality, no real closure, and the end of Max's island time is abrupt... just. like. in. the. book. He decides to go home, and then he does.
Yes, the monsters in the movie have names. They have reactions to situations. They have history, they have more than just terrible eyes and terrible teeth. But nothing in the movie takes away anything from the book. I feel like they are stand-alone depictions of the same story.
And now, they both land in the "This is really good" column of my life.
That's all. No really, that's all.