Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Like most almost-30-somethings, my husband and I grew up with the children's book, Where the Wild Things Are. He has much fonder memories of it than I as it was his little brother's favorite bedtime story, but I do vaguely recall the look of the illustrations and their shadowy woods. Last night, we took a trip down memory lane and saw the Spike Jonze/Dave Eggers adaptation of the book.

Wow, was that a hipster-ed-out film! The whole vibe was indy, which can be an annoying genre in my view, but it turned out to be pretty effective for this story. The artfully rumpled costumes and hipster-kid hair set the stage quickly, but the flat winter gloom that the story opens with and, later, the dusky, orangey light that fills the forest are wonderful because they prevent the film from going in a Disney direction. The film stays in the realm of possibility, rather than becoming a fairytale, which makes it much creepier, almost like a psychological thriller in my view.

However, the thing that really grabbed me about the way Jonze & Eggers did this film was the intensity of the fighting, wrestling, groaning, growling and general "wild rumpus." I couldn't believe how truly out of control and vicious were the adventures between Max and the Wild Things--many times, I felt breathless and uncomfortable, afraid for Max in particular. I found myself worrying constantly about what would happen when he got hurt. I think this is why the film (and the story) is so successful--it captures a child really going to that place where he scares himself, he's so out-of-control, and it shows him slowly, painfully learning to reign himself in. Watching him dive into his unconscious and wrestle with his Id, I didn't know whether I would be able to handle the maturation process (let alone this 8-year-old kid)!

It's incredible and scary to think back to a time when I could have played and raged and bolted without fear, the way Max does in this film. Even though I often feel like my emotions and reactions get the better of me now, it's nothing like what kids experience, especially when you add in their vivid imaginations. I'd forgotten what a wild ride childhood really is. It's daunting to think of having a child who will be full of that kind of potential for pushing and crossing boundaries--what a responsibility it will be to both let go enough to let her explore that inner forest, with all its potential for fear, danger and loss, and then to be there with dinner when she comes home.

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