So last Sunday I finally went to see Where the Wild Things Are [site with sound -- I LOVE the soundtrack, BTW] with K and a family of friends (I finally caved in again and had my other friend watch the boys -- I've had her boys before many times, but only twice before asked her to help with mine). I loved it, but then, again, contrary to my blogger friend Caroline Grant, I think we're more of a Wild Things family than an In the Night Kitchen family like hers (our boys are the same age, BTW), but more on that later. Her review of the movie in Literary Mama is great, but and I'm glad I waited until I saw the movie to read it (since it has spoilers -- I actually waited until I wrote my own review below before I read it carefully -- you might not want to read this review if you don't want spoilers). You should also check out Caroline's fascinating and rare "insider take" on the book -- previous professional contact with Maurice Sendak himself!! (I'd already linked to it in my previous post about Where the Wild Things Are in the old PTM).
I had already been moved to tears just by watching the trailer, so it was no surprise that I cried through most of the movie again (in spite of K's constant teasing -- "Don't cry too much now!"). I think that perhaps this commenter (or spam person?) was almost right when he wrote in that this is mostly an "art film." More than that, though, as Caroline says in her review, it's a movie about childhood that is very moving for parents and, hopefully, for young folks who are just leaving childhood behind. It's definitely not a "children's movie" although it is based upon a beloved picture book.
As a mother of two boys, when I saw the movie I would constantly see my oldest boy in Max and that alone moved me. Max's need to be "babied" a little bit on the one hand and his fierce need for independence on the other mirror my son's needs and attitudes very closely. Moreover, I'm also the mom who types her boys' stories into the computer (that part just moved me beyond expression). Oh, and back to being a Where the Wild Things Are kind of family -- I think I'd qualify us like that because as most Brazilian folks, we're often very loud and exuberant, "wild rumpus" kind of folks. Not only the kids, at times, but everyone. The fact that I had previously taught the book several times also made it one of our favorites here at home. And, last, but not least, unfortunately, I've also inherited some "screaming genes" from my mom and sometimes I wildly "explode" like Max's mom did, more on that at the end.
Now, whenever a film is adapted from a piece of literature, I, the "supposed" literary scholar, am always very very picky. And, of course, I always like the book more in the end. That's not the case necessarily here, since the film expands on the book in an unprecedented way, given that it's a very short picture book, so it's basically another work of art, simply based on a previous one. The details that surprised me the most were small but significant -- the fact that in the movie the words "Wild Thing" that are so central to the book are not used at all! (please correct me if I'm wrong Caroline) The mother screams that Max is "out of control" and there's no mention of going "to the land where the wild things are." I think that this small detail is more significant than the fact (which bothered my husband more) that he did not go back to his room but ran away, so a forest didn't grow there, leading him to sail away. My (poor, lay) interpretation is that Spike Jonze didn't want to use special effects here (the room turning into a forest) and wanted to make the voyage more literal.
The voyage in the book is poetically rendered thus: "he sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are" whereas in the movie we just get the majestic images of him braving the sea in that small boat and the almost as equally poetic scribbling of his name on the side of the boat. The visuals of the island are beyond stunning. I was wondering about the film's locations and according to IMDb it was all filmed in Australia (when not in a studio) -- I'd thought that perhaps it might have been New Zealand, of Lord of the Rings fame (and where my brother now lives!).
I really enjoyed the fleshing out of the Wild Things (which are stunningly faithful to the book's drawings) and their varied personalities. I think this whole movie is a plateful for for any psychoanalyst or for a Freudian/Lacanian analysis (I'm not big on psychoanalysis, I have to confess). The conflict between Carol -- who is the Wild Thing most closely identified with Max -- and KW mirrors the conflict and longing in the relationship of Max with his sister, and so on and so forth. Oh, and KW's protective "eating" of the boy -- a plateful and such a profound/new way to see the "I love you I'll eat you up" line from Sendak (which is, obviously, uttered by who else but KW at the end!).
Now, the second departure from the book that I found quite significant was the fact that Max doesn't really tame the Wild Things with a magic trick (of looking into their yellow eyes and not blinking once -- I'm loosely quoting from memory here) -- they're just way too big and too wild for that. Therefore, they never unanimously declare him king. He is the one who introduces himself as one in a rambling and very weak and tentative "make-believe" re-creation of himself and the Wild Things end up convinced by all his arguments (which obviously crumble in the end, uncovering his fantasy and make believe). I think this fact makes him a much less authoritative king that the book would lead us to believe. In addition, he never sends the Wild Things "to bed without their suppers" -- "Freudian-ly" imitating his mother -- like in the book. He just brings a degree of confusion to their lives, given his inexperience and incipience as a leader (I particularly disliked the war scene, it just made me cringe and thing that I hope my children's games don't go wrong like that -- although I know some are bound to).
I didn't mind any of the other changes and additions, I think they just enriched the book and provided new layers and fascinating interpretations of such a short text (338 words). The one review I'd read prior to seeing the film is Mary Pols' Time magazine's and it's pretty good, although I think she exaggerated a bit Max's relationship with his sister (I didn't find it as heartbreaking as she did) and I don't think the movie stays for too long in the "Wild Things" land. This is a minor detail in Pols's analysis, but I didn't see Max in school as a "typical bored boy." I don't like it when reviews predispose me to interpret things a certain way (that's why one might not want to read them before seeing the work).
It is a sad movie, I must say, full of the angst and confusion involved in the serious business of growing up. I can totally see why Maurice Sendak would have loved it, given that many (if not most) of his works address dark subjects (just to cite two recent examples, Brundibar and We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy -- which uses two nursery rhymes to take on homelessness and poverty). I can't wait to see Jonze's documentary on Sendak, since I've long been fascinated by his work.
Back to the film... I really enjoyed it and was moved by it, but I also felt a bit disturbed and hence the long question I decided to include in the post's title. I could see my boy there in Max and the Wild Things, but I could see me too. And that is a clear deviation from the plot. The reviewer Mary Pols wants the film to go back to the security of Catherine Keener's superbly played mother, but what if sometimes the mother is there in the Wild Things land with her son?
I don't know if I can elaborate further on this, it would be too much of "cheap blog therapy" and I don't want to end the review in this tone. I'll just say that in the recent months, dealing with my son because of cyber-schooling has both brought us closer than ever, but also brought too often to surface a "Wild Thing" mother that I don't want to be. I want to be the nurturing one, but at times I just can't help but scold and nag and go all wild. :-( Is there room in the world/film/life for a at times transgressive "wild mother"? Or is that too dark and scary and also too dark for words?