Friday, October 23, 2009

Review: Where the Wild Things Are

If the message (tacked on: a too-grown-up after-thought added to anethetize adult anxieties) of The Wizard of Oz was "there's no place like home," the message of Where the Wild Things Are would be everyplace is like home... there is no escape.

When I was not yet four years old I had a kind of ephiphany. Both frightening and empowering. Smarting from a punishment I didn't think I deserved, I told myself that something happened to grown ups that made them altogether forget what it was like to be a child--wiped their memories clean. Clueless. I vowed to myself to write a book.. then and there. I would call it 'The Book of the Child' and I would keep it for myself to read after I went through that terrible change... but I could neither read nor write. The book went unwritten. I can recount time after time with both of my sons--as a young--and ten years later, a not-so-young father, recalling that moment... remembering, but too late.

There have been a few others I suspect of having experienced similar ephiphanies: Roald Dahl, Maurice Sendak... and in a very different way, Fred Rogers. They were all more faithful to their vision than me.

Maybe Spike Jonze remembers, too. He's remained courageously faithful to Sendak's core insight, even as he's expanded the ten line illustrated book into a full length film. I'd add Dave Eggers name, but I don't have a sense it was Egger's screen play so much as Jonze's cinimatic realization that captured it. I admit to being baffled by the adaptation in short story form published in The New Yorker Max at Sea Oct. 23, 09), unless it was to accept Egger's idea to slow the pace (Eggers' drawn out description of the sea voyage in that story)--no small contribution to the strength of this film; a Seseme Street, music vid Bim-Bam flash-n-cut take would have been disastrous--because there is far more in Sendak's book than the five minutes it takes to read it.
Children who want it read to them again and again... this is not a symptom of early OCD... this is wisdom. This is one of those occasions when we forgetful grown-ups should damn well pay attention to what our kid's are getting... that we aren't.

What it will be like to be adults? How do kids put that?

When I'm BIG...

Yes. And when we're big... we'll be KING.

On the island of the Wild Things, like in a dream--real dreams, not literary or cinematic dreams--everything is split up...and recombined. Max is all of what he experiences, and yet not entirely any of it... or of them, of the creatures: unlike the film version of The Wizard of Oz (Baum's books are orders of magnitude more strange), the Wild Things by name and relationships echo Max's family... but are not reducible to any of them. Associations are permissible, neither metaphorical similitude nor allogrical identity quite works. The Wild Things are projections, for sure... but remain more than that, some part of their reality indecipherable... as in real dreams.

I don't know that this film will be watched in future generations the way The Wizard of Oz is now... but I hope it will be. It deserves it.

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