Monday, October 26, 2009

"Let the Wild Rumpus Begin": Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

This weekend I had the pleasure of seeing Where the Wild Things Are in my favorite (i.e.:closest) local theatre, Palace Pointe in Roxboro. Needless to say there were plenty of small children present; I guess that's the consequence of buying a ticket for a so-called "kid's movie." Where the Wild Things Are was a fantastic movie, one of the year's best so far (I'd put it above District 9, but below Inglourious Basterds and Up) and Spike Jonze is now 3-for-3 in crafting superbly whimsical movies. However, this was definately not a "kid's movie;" in fact, it was one of the most mature movies I have seen all year.
I hate calling it mature. It makes it sound dirty, as if there's inappropriate content in it that children should avoid. With the exception of one (bloodless) on-screen dismemberment, there was nothing in this movie that could be found inappropriate. I say its mature in that the themes of this film are decidedly adult and are aimed at adults, rather than having potty humor and messages like most "family" movies these days (I keep using quotations for a reason, but that's a completely different discussion for another day). And judging by the reactions of the children in the audience, these themes were definately aimed at the parents.
In interviews, Spike Jonze has said that this is not a movie for kids, but rather a movie about being a kid. And he succeeded in that. The film wonderfully captures the magic and wonder that comes with the innocence of childhood, and indeed had me reflecting nostalgically on my days in Moultrie, Georgia, digging a six-foot hole in the ground for no reason other than to find out what was underneath. And there's also the obvious theme of getting along in a dysfunctional family, as the Wild Things bicker and fight with each other over any small offence.
However, I noticed two other themes hiding underneath the surface. Where the Wild Things Are serves as a metaphor for our current state of the world. In one scene, Max's teacher tells the class that one day the sun will blow up, and everyone on Earth will die. Not a day goes by that we don't wake up in the morning with the news telling us how we're going to die today: H1N1, terrorist attacks, military quagmires in the Middle East and so on. In our post-9/11 world, there's always a sense of dread hanging over everyday life, a feeling of paranoia towards outsiders. The film shows Max running away to the land of the Wild Things, and by doing so embodying our own personal want to escape from the calamity of the world. The film provides an escape from that atmosphere into one where fear is resolved, where disasters don't strike: its a simpler world, the world of...a child. It's easy to understand why this is meant for adults: most of the film's (re: Warner Brothers') intended audience probably hadn't even been born when 9/11 happened, and in no way could comprehend this desire.
Then, in the land of the Wild Things, an even sneakier metaphor comes in. When Max meets the Wild Things, they make him their king, since he promised to make sure nothing bad ever happened, to reunite KW with the rest of them, and to make all the sadness go away. At first everything is fantastic, as everyone at least pretends to be enthusiastic about the new king. But as time goes on, some of the Wild Things grow unhappy with Max's rule, especially since he hasn't done all he promised. As Max becomes less superhuman and more falliable to them, they lose their faith in him, which leads to his departure from their island.
Sound familiar?
When put that way, its easy to substitute Max with the Obama administration. Obama arrived on the political scene in his campaign promising to fix the nation's woes, and the people enthusiastically voted him into office (I was among them). For his first few months he remained our White Knight, but as time moved on, more and more people have become dissatisfied with his policies, and griped about how the "change" and "hope" he promised has yet to arrive (I could rant in his defense, but again, another time). Where the Wild Things Are provides a cautionary tale on the future of his presidency: even though he tries his hardest to make changes for the better, the dissatisfaction of the public could force him to leave.
Never thought a movie based on a children's book could be so dense, did you?

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