In many ways, Where the Wild Things Are is a movie about being a child that you have to be an adult to grasp. Spike Jonze could have gone any number of directions with a screenplay. After all, the book is only ten lines and it couldn’t translate to the big screen without some liberties being taken. And Jonze has taken some liberties even though Maurice Sendak himself had final script approval. What’s so amazing is that the liberties Jonze, and co-writer Dave Eggers have taken add a depth to those original ten lines that will simply further endear the book to many.
Young Max is the product of a divorce. His Mother tries but is struggling to put her life back together after a divorce, holding her family together and pursuing a career. His older sister is outgrowing him and Max is struggling to make sense of his world and emotions. They seem too big for him, scary, like he can’t control them. After an outburst that bewilders his Mom and frightens himself, Max finds himself on an island with large beasts. Though they could eat him at any time, Max is left trying to make sense of the monsters and even reconcile them.
Speaking about the movie to Pitchfork, Jonze says:
Well, cinematic terms. I knew I wanted it to be live action; I wanted to build the wild things for real. I wanted to be on location. I wanted it to be a real boy with real creatures, in a dangerous, unpredictable environment, where you’re with wild animals. But that wasn’t enough to make a movie. It was more the idea that gave me confidence that there was a movie there was that the wild creatures were wild emotions, and Max was trying to understand things that were confusing and frightening, and made him anxious– things being out of control, and him being sort of emotionally wild himself.
What unfolds is a beautiful character study of a boy trying to make sense of love, fear, rejection, loneliness and everything in between, finding, in the words of one of the beasts, “It’s hard to be a family.” Max finds that even in his so-called “safe places,” life and all of its complications, finds a way of creeping in.
From a Christian viewpoint, there are many things we could take away from a story like this. For example, we could talk about the King who will never let us down. We could talk about the pervasive spread of the Fall. But, we could also talk about how love covers a multitude of wrongs (1 Peter 4:8). But sometimes it’s enough to recognize that some stories resonate with us all.
I hadn’t looked forward to a movie as much as this one in a long time. And it didn’t disappoint.
Have you seen it? What did you think?