Sunday, October 18, 2009


Believe me, I cried repeatedly during Spike Jonez's adaptation of Maurice Sendak's beloved children's classic Where The Wild Things Are, so often I couldn't even count the number of times. But I can pinpoint exactly when I knew it was going to be a rough ride, emotionally: At the very beginning, when I realized Jonez had given the story's young protagonist, Max, a sister, who looked to be about five years older than him. A sister that age increases your feeling of isolation when you're a kid, the sense that you have no peers in your own family. I know this, of course, from experience. At that point I knew this movie, which is a journey into the emotional landscape of a little boy, was inevitably going to be a journey into my own head as well.

So it may be a little difficult to offer any kind of objective assessment of this film. It gets so much right, emotionally and otherwise, that any flaws it may possess fall away. (If flaws it has. Honestly, it seemed pretty much pitch-perfect to me.) But clearly Where The Wild Things Are deserves a spot at or near the top of any list of the greatest films ever made about childhood. It is being marketed (at least to some extent) as a kid's movie, and that's true, but it's a movie for all the kids who don't quite fit in, who spend most of their time living in their own worlds. It explores those worlds, what they are like and how they came to be. It remembers exactly what it was like to be eight or nine and feel like the only person in the world who has ever been so insanely happy or miserably sad, how the world is full of mysteries that must be explored, how scary it can be to feel things when all of your emotions are as raw as your skin.

Oh, and it has monsters, because little boys instinctively love monsters, and any fantasy world they conjured when inevitably include some. And these monsters all reflect some part of Max, including the parts he can't quite understand. They are loving and warm and angry and ignored and terrifying and mysterious and sweet and kind. They make him their king, then later admit he was never really a king, at just the same time Max realizes it as well. So he must leave them and return to his own world, where he isn't a king, but a little boy with a mother who loves him very much.

And I'm crying right now because I'm thinking of the final scene, but also an earlier sequence where Max comes across his mother, fearful of losing her job, and tries his best to cheer her up. She ask him to tell a story, and he does, and she dutifully transcribes it, preserving this moment in his life, in their lives, in a scene that is as perfect a depiction of love as the movies have ever given us, and which of course inevitably reminded me of my mom, who gave me endless reams of Big Chief tablets, encouraging me to fill them with whatever I might imagine, who appreciated me for what I was no matter what and holy crap, see what I mean? I can't evaluate this movie because it intersects too closely with everything I've ever been.

I can't even discuss the beautifully understated visual style Jonez brings to the film, because its enchanting images of a forest playland reminded me so much of the row of evergreens I used to run and hide in whenever my emotions got out of hand, and I'll just start rambling about my past again, or how the only other movie that so perfectly captures the outsized emotions of childhood is Meet Me In St. Louis, because then I'll go off on another Vincente Minnelli tangent.

So let me just say this: See this movie.