Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
An adolescent named Max has an active imagination, and he will throw fits if others don't go along with what he wants. Max - following an incident with Claire (his sister) and her friends, and following a tantrum which he throws as a result of his Mother paying more attention to her boyfriend than to him - runs away from home. Wearing his wolf costume at the time, Max not only runs away physically, but runs toward a world in his imagination. This world, an ocean away, is inhabited by large wild beasts, including one named Carol who is much like Max himself in temperament. Instead of eating Max like they normally would with creatures of his type, the wild things befriend Max after he proclaims himself a king who can magically solve all their problems.
A very different movie than expected - I thought it would be a sort of children tale, light, and bouncy, entertaining and brought to the screen exclusively for kids. However, the movie turned out after an opening setup to be a more adult level story, in essence a psychological introspective analysis into how a child deals with aspects of his behavior he doesn't really understand, through his fantasies of wild, scary, muppet like creatures on an isolated island. That part of the story will be way over the heads of most kids, and adults for that matter, and they won't see past the superficiality of the somewhat scary creatures acting strangely. The setup to the story was just excellent - Max (the charismatic Max Records - a riveting presence) feels lonely, isolated, in his existence, primarily his family relationships. Single Mom (Catherine Keener) loves him, but his preoccupied with making a living and catching The Boy Friend (Mark Ruffalo), while older teen Sister (Pepita Emmerichs) sees Max as that pesky little brother. Max finally blows up after an incident where his feelings are hurt, gets out of control, and runs off to the woods - where the second part of the story begins. The second part of the story is the almost group therapy with the Wild Things providing the feedback. I found the Wild Things creatures fascinating, and the analogies of each monster to parts of Max's conflicting behavior really creative - a much more complex story than the simple setup story. Of course Max returns to reality, and Mom, and you're left to your imagination how Max's goes through. Overall, this movie is worth renting on two levels: a somewhat interesting, albeit slow, story of a kid and Wild Things for preteen viewers; and a fascinating adult level psychological look at the imagination of a kid projected on fantasy creatures as he tries to cope with reality.
This artistic film is visually hypnotic and stays true to the tone of the childrens' book, emphasizing the raw emotions, confusion, uncontrolled behavior, and eventual understanding of "wild thing" Max that relationships and feelings are challenging and cannot be controlled the way a king rules a kingdom, temper tantrums and wild behavior are hurtful, and the fact that he is not always be the center of attention does not mean that he is not loved. A terrific score/soundtrack add to the film's beauty, Max Records is fascinating to watch (you can see the wheels turning as he ponders and tries to offer solutions to the challenges of the monsters' conflicted social life and insecurities), the voice-actors make the monsters almost human, and the costumes brilliantly match the illustrations from the book. However, the slim story is too slight for a full-length movie. Most kids and many adults will be bored with the slow pace and confused by the lack of exposition. As in real life, the characters express themselves as if through a mental and emotional filter -- they barely understand their own feelings, and therefore have trouble communicating them to others. Can you say "passive-aggressive"? As viewers, we have to use our own thoughts and experiences to cobble together an understanding of what is going on with each of the characters. This challenge is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is different from family films where the story is fast-moving and straightforward. I recommend that parents and kids watch it together at home where you can talk about feelings and what is going on during the movie. It is a great opportunity for adults to put themselves into kid-sized shoes, where small events seem huge and emotions can be very big and scary.