“Where The Wild Things Are” Is The Most Honest, Unflinching Look At Childhood Ever
First things first: this is not an easy review to write. Spike Jonze’s “Where The Wild Things Are” is…different. It’s so different that I’m having trouble to describe what I saw and how I feel about all of it, even two days after I’ve seen it.
As I’m sure most of the free world is aware, this movie is based on a very short children’s book by Maurice Sendak. If you go in to this movie expecting an actual narrative or something more than happens in the book, well, you will come away disappointed. Jonze has taken Sendak’s book and just expanded the theme instead of creating a story. The movie is probably better off because of this.
The movie follows Max (whose real name is Max Records) for two days. It seems that Max is having a rough time with his single mom (who may or may not be a widow), his older sister ditching him for her friends, and his own social disfunction. Max lives moment to moment with decisions based solely on emotion, which don’t seem to pan out for him in the end.
After a night of seeing his mom interact with her boyfriend, Max hits Defcon One and has a full on freak out session. He dons his wolf pajamas and, after a jarring physical attack on his mom, runs out of the house and into the night. He runs into the forest and comes across a boat, which he sails across an ocean and to the land of the Wild Things.
Max finds the Wild Things while they are having their own moment of social disfunction. Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini) is destroying their homes in the forest because KW (Lauren Ambrose) decided to leave their family. Max interrupts and tells them that he is a king, which prompts Carol to make Max their king as well.
While there is no actual moment that says if this is all real or happening in Max’s imagination, it’s apparent that Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers made each Wild Thing a part of Max’s life. Carol, only thinking with emotions, behaves just as Max does. KW is loving, quiet, and kind, which makes me believe she is Max’s mother. Judith and Ira (voiced by the great Catherine O’Hara and Forest Whitaker) snipe at each other like an old married couple. Could this be how Max saw his own mother and father? There are a few other Wild Things that are obvious parts of Max, but I’m sure that you get the idea.
Overall, this is just an amazing movie. It was shot in Australia and it actually looks exactly like the book, which would be the first obstacle in creating a movie like this. The Wild Things move and react exactly like oversized people, which is incredible considering they are suits with people inside them. This movie should make everyone that depends solely on CGI to pause. Jonze’s Wild Things look completely real because they are completely real.
It’s possible that the actors voicing the Wild Things helped in making them real, in particular Gandolfini. He is able to make you feel sorry for Carol instead of hating him for his childish behavior.
Of course, the movie would fall flat on its face if the star, Max, wasn’t up to par. Luckily, Max Records flat out is Max. After a short time, I stopped thinking this kid was acting. His manic behavior is so real that it’s a bit disturbing. He easily has himself one of the best child actor performances ever.
“Where The Wild Things Are” is more a movie about being a child than a children’s movie. This is truly a credit to Spike Jonze for not dumbing anything down and trying to be honest to kids about life. There isn’t a great epiphany or that one moment in which Max realizes that everything is going to be all right. It’s not going to be all right and it could just get harder. For me, the most important thing to take from this movie for everyone, adults and kids, is that we need to focus on those pure moments of joy in between the bad ones.
Lastly, I’m not one of those people that can claim they connected to this movie in a deep way. I’m sure there are many people that can make that claim and I believe them. However, there is one moment that will stay with me for quite some time and, unless you want to be spoiled, stop reading!
It’s safe to assume that almost every person alive has had a moment of regret like Carol did as he watched Max sail away. All he could do is weep in silence, realizing that he missed saying goodbye to Max and he will never get that moment back.
I’m normally not this warm and fuzzy but…make those moments count folks.