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Let the wild rumpus start

A while ago we made a mention of the recent film adaption of “Where the wild things are” – so one of our readers went to see it (again) with his children and wrote a review … check it out!

By Pete Rorabaugh

“Let the Wild Rumpus Start!”
Those may be the most memorable words I have ever read aloud as a parent.

wild things Let the wild rumpus startThat is Max Records, who plays Max in everyone’s favorite story about a boy who dreams he is a king. Last month I saw Where the Wild Things Are with my two oldest (9 and 11). I had already seen the movie once — on opening night. I am that kind of fan of an assortment of things (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Cormac McCarthy, lots of musicians). I was really excited about the film. For once, I thought, an indie-kids movie.

I was disappointed. In Spike Jonze’s adaptation, Max ceases being “Everykid” and becomes something darker. As much as I support exploring alternatives to cinematic “stability”, Where the Wild Things Are wanders too far into the forest and does not really want to come home.

As a literature and writing teacher, I have used Sendak’s book in conversation and in class to discuss psychoanalytic criticism. Most of the psychological world recognizes that large bodies of water represent an unconscious or mystical experience. This is probably because of the unfathomable (sorry, I know this is painful) depth under the ocean that we know exists but cannot access. The ocean, in a dream, is like the closet that we shove all of the emotions we need to keep but can’t find room for. Eventually we know we are going to have to clean that place out. In both the story and the film, just such a body of water separates the real world from the wilder one.

Max, the story’s young protagonist, has plenty that needs cleaning. In the film he has a new backstory, immersed in the pathos of abandonment, isolation, anger, and gender confusion. In the book (do you remember?) he was just a kid who chased his dog around with a fork. Movie Max has a lot more on his plate and, subsequently, a lot more to deal with when he crosses the water.

Spike Jonze and crew have done an effective job reminding fans of the book about detail: Max’s name carved in the boat, some key quotations, and the final supper scene. However, the fact that Max needs some serious therapy before, during, and after his trip disturbs the film for me. Here is the central question: is it easier to think that Max’s destructive and dictatorial urges hide inside all of us, or to diagnose the Wild Things dream as the ramblings of a semi-neglected and borderline schizophrenic kid? The book leans more toward the former, and the movie toward the latter.

It reminds me of the quandary that the movie Falling Down created for me. At the end of that Michael Douglas modern dystopian classic, the protagonist is colored as a mental patient who needs his meds. Ok, fine. But didn’t I sit through the whole film relishing his destructive break-down? Didn’t I want to have the same experiences too? It just made it too easy when the film made him “crazy”; it would have been better if he were just like one of us, making the choices that most of us only dream about.

Wild Things’s Max is a solitary figure, and rightly so. He has to become isolated to give us the terrible beauty of his vision. I just wish that the film left us with the feeling that we are all Max, battling those demons and keeping those voices (mostly) quiet in our heads. Crazy-ing up Max is a scapegoating move.

Still, my oldest two wanted to see it. They were also disappointed, too. It gave us something to talk about, at least. Exploring the effects of art is one my favorite things about parenting. They always teach me something.


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