I managed to take my boys to go see "Where the Wild Things Are" on opening weekend. I have been excited to see this movie ever since I have seen the previews for it. The children's book was a favorite of mine as a young boy. So I was especially excited to see this live adaptation of the book.
Now if you have not seen it yet, do not read on! I do not want to spoil anything for you. But for those of you who have seen it I would love to hear from you and see if your interpretation of the film was different from mine.
Spike Jonze has created a great film that brings the book to life in a magical way. But being that the actual book material was very short, he had to flesh out the story more to make it into a full length film.
So let me start with the book by Maurice Sendak and what that book meant to me growing up. In the book, I always identified with Max. In the real world he would get in trouble with his parents and get sent to his room. But once in his room, he could escape into an imaginary world where he didn't have to fit into someone else's world, but instead in this world he was king! As he visited his monster friends, they would have fun and do crazy things together. Eventually Max comes back into his real world and all is well. His imaginary world was his way to escape from the real world and having to follow someone else's rules. When he was with the Wild Things he could have fun and step out of the boundaries. In fact the "boundaries" of his room fade away as it transforms into the land of the Wild Things. It was a fun book that left a lot to the imagination for boys filled with the reckless abandon of youth.
Spike Jonze has all of this in his film. But instead of leaving it wide open for interpretation between fantasy and reality, he decides to blur the lines between these two worlds. The primary struggle within this film is how Max is processing the divorce of his parents and the absence of his father.
Max begins to really act up when his mom is entertaining a male guest for dinner. When his mom wants him to cool it he takes it up several notches, eventually running out of the house and ending up escaping to the land of the Wild Things. Once there, he breaks the ice with the monsters and the wild rumpus most certainly begins. The initial beginning of the visit to where the wild things are was definitely a place of escape for Max to cut loose and go wild without anyone getting mad at him.
But as time goes on and he gets to know his monster friends, he notices a lot of tension between Carol and Judith (I may not have the right names of the two monsters). Carol takes on the father-figure image to Max. Judith is definitely the mother-figure. Eventually things build up to where Max is frightened by the outbursts of Carol who is trying to make everything right but gets angry when things start to not go the way he wants them. Judith becomes the one that Max eventually runs to for safety and she literally swallows him whole to save him from Carol. Max is consumed by her presence and surrounded by her protection. He begins to understand the pain that is between these two monsters and how it has separated them from each other. But he also has a deeper appreciation of his mothers protection and love for him.
When it is time for Max to leave the island all of the monsters are there to see him off but Carol. Max longs to see him one more time and is reluctant to leave without saying goodbye. Eventually Carol realizes his pain has pushed him away from everyone and he rushes down to the shore to see Max off. As Max sails off, all the monsters howl out to Max as their expression of their love for him. When Max arrives back home he is warmly greeted by his mother as it appears that he has a better understanding and appreciation for her as his mom.
The imaginary world of Max became the place where he could wrap his mind around what was going on in the real world. He may not have had a front row seat to the fall out of his parents marriage but somehow he needed to come to terms with it so that he did not resent his mother. As the monsters took on the personalities of specific people in Max's life, he was able to slowly process the issues he has had to deal with in his real world. And when it was time to leave the island, all of the Wild Things came down to howl out to him. This gave Max assurance that regardless of the issues between the adults in his life, they are all cheering on his launch into life and want to see him sail off to do great things. Once Max was able to wrap his mind around all of this, he was then ready to go back to his real life and embrace his mom with a better understanding of his relationship to her.
Overall the movie had a lot of emotions. It was fun at parts, but it also was sad, melancholy and frightening at parts. I'm not so sure this is a "kid's" movie. It could be in the sense that a lot of the symbolism and imagery will go over their heads. But this could be a profound film to help older kids and teens process pain that they take on themselves which come from their family life. Overall, this was a great movie and I would recommend that everyone see it at least once. But just be prepared that there are some heavy issues that are fleshed out in this film.