The Videogum Movie Club: Where The Wild Things Are

Gabe Delahaye | October 19, 2009 - 12:15 pm

I went to see Where the Wild Things Are on Saturday, but it was sold out. Ay-ay-ay. That was a surprise! I mean, anticipation for this movie seemed pretty high, but anticipation for lots of movies seems high, especially when you spend most of your days following movie anticipation trends on-line. Now, of course, we know that Where the Wild Things Are was the number one movie in the country, and it earned a WILD (sorry) $32.5 million. That is so many million! But we didn’t know that back then when we were like, “Sold out? That is not very enchanting.” So I went to the movie on Sunday instead. They had added a second, simultaneous screening, and both of them were packed. But packed with whom? There were certainly plenty of children with their parents in my theater, but there were also plenty of man-children, if you know what I mean. The dude sitting to my left was in his mid-30s, and he was alone. The young couple sitting next to me pulled books out to read before the movie started, and she was reading Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit. Of course she was! This movie was really hitting on all cylinders, if there are only two cylinders, and they are children and over-educated upper-middle-class white people in their late 20s-mid-30s.

Also, security was super tight? Like, they wouldn’t let me into the theater at all because I had a banana in my bag, which I had to eat in a fury, like some kind of forest creature, cowering in the corner next to the garbage can. And then when I got to my particular screening the security guard hassled me about my ticket stub? And actually made a call to the head of security on his walkie-talkie before letting me into the movie? We’re still talking about a movie written by Dave Eggers based on a children’s book published 43 years ago, right?

Yes. We are. So let’s talk about it!

Aesthetically, Where the Wild Things Are is very beautiful. That is just a fact. Which makes sense. Not only was Spike Jonze working with his long-time cinematographer Lance Acord, who is great at being a cinematographer, but Spike Jonze developed his sensibility (and his career) in music videos and advertisements (duh, we know, but let’s back up our theories!) which are both pure aesthetics. There is even a word for what Spike Jonze is: an aesthete. He loves pretty pictures and capturing “special moments.” And he does that pretty well. Despite the mixed reviews this movie has been receiving, everyone seems to be pretty much in agreement that this is a pretty movie, and it has some very memorable images. Max in his igloo. Max and Carol walking across the desert. Max running towards the fort. The Wild Things on the beach.

But this movie isn’t just an aesthetic exercise. It’s an adaptation of a beloved children’s book that means a lot to many many people. So how did that work out? Personally, I thought that it worked out so-so! I liked the meandering non-plot, and the speed with which it set up Max and with which it concluded. Let us not waste time on things that are not relevant. But I did not like Max Records that much. No offense to him, he is only a child, but he seemed less like an actual child, and more like the physical embodiment of Spike Jonze’s and Dave Egger’s obsession with the perpetuation of childhood. Like, he couldn’t just be a kid, he had to be the most clever and imaginative kid. The simple fact of his journey to the Land of the Wild Things makes him a dreamer, but the movie works very hard from the beginning to point out that this kid is a Serious, Advanced Degree dreamer. Not just your average dreamer! Which actually kind of takes some of the pleasure of his journey away from the audience, because it’s no longer “our” adventure as people who remember or are just now experiencing what it is like for a child to bump up against the world, it is Max Records’s adventure and we just get to watch. This is the type of movie that one could, theoretically, leave the movie flush with the thrill of a shared experience, but this didn’t feel shared. It felt presented.

And while we’re on the subject of Max, um, there is far less whimsy and unbridled youthful energy when the boy has actual rage issues. He travels to the Land of the Wild Things not because he is alone in his room with nothing but his imagination, but because he straight up BIT HIS MOM. That’s genuinely not OK to do. But he is our hero now? I am on the side of a boy with deep behavioral problems? If the Wild Things are an extension of is psychology, and they are, then the Wild Things are disconcertingly violent, and they need to visit a therapist maybe. They punch each other and rip each others’ arms off and throw each other through buildings and step on each others’ faces. Max’s idea of a way to cheer everyone up and bring them back together is to have a dirt clod fight where they hit each other expressly in the head, and/or knock each others’ legs out from under them. Yikes. Good thinking, Max.

That being said, I think that this is a movie that will be better in retrospect. I was having trouble not falling asleep about three-quarters of the way through, and I left the movie feeling kind of blah about it. But I like it more today? Like, I enjoy the memory of seeing it more than I enjoyed the actual watching it. Which is kind of poetic (these guys know what I’m talking about). You know, because of the golden nostalgia that infects adults when they think about childhood, which in reality was terrifying and lonely and kind of entirely miserable.

Oh, also, people keep saying that this is not a movie for kids, but I don’t know why they keep saying that. Sure, the movie has a lot of screaming in it, and it is kind of dark, and there are a lot of disappointed and angry monsters in it, and disappointed and angry monsters can be scary. But it seems to me that Maurice Sendak’s work is all about children confronting a terrifying and confusing world and being more than capable of handling it. Despite early reports that children left test screenings in shrieking, crying droves, that did not happen in my theater. And I have yet to actually hear anyone relate a genuine child’s perspective on the movie. I would be curious! I really do not know whether or not children would like this movie, but it certainly seemed like it was “for children,” in its way.

Any nine-year-olds out there care to comment?