Saturday, December 26, 2009

Wild Thing!

On Christmas eve, I saw Where the Wild Things Are, Spike Jonze's adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book.

Max is a young boy dealing with the loss of his father. His teenage sister, busy with her friends, is unable to relate to him. And Catherine Keener plays the loving, but constantly preoccupied mother. Sadness has lodged itself in his heart, and he lashes out at the world. One night, unable to contain the Wild Thing snapping against his insides, he bites his mother and runs away without any supper. He dashes through the street and into the woods, roaring his terrible roar and gnashing his terrible teeth. He finds a boat and sails it through a great sea to where the wild things are. He tames them with his awesome power and becomes their king.

Each of the wild things has a name and is distinct in some way. They are an embodiment of feelings we cannot name, of emotions we hide deep inside ourselves. Max makes an instant connection with Carol, a wild thing who is also dealing with loss through rage. The dialogue was wise and searing, made so by its earnest delivery. In one scene, Carol talks to Max about loneliness and my breath caught. Max Records as Max was amazing.

The island is an untamed paradise. Max and his wild things play among giant trees and sleep in a fort made of tunnels and twigs. Carol and his friend KW build a miniature city in a cave in the middle of a sand desert. This island is our the Secret Place, quiet and primeval. If an adult were stranded here, they would freak out.

Elements of Sendak's wonderful story are visible and serve as the movie's foundation. But Jonze's extrapolations are inspired. He took a children's picture book and transformed it into an exploration of the human condition. The cinematography will make your eyes go wide with child-like wonder; the material will make your chest tighten with beautiful, inexplicable pain. Karen O and the Kids provide a brilliant soundtrack for the film.

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