Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are

I got around to watching Where the Wild Things Are. It’s not your usual Hollywood fare.

Some authors write children’s books, not for kids, but for their fellow adults. They find the genre of a children’s book a more conducive medium to explore the meaning of life, assuming that it has any meaning. Although the Sendak book may be written for kids, the film adaptation is not.

The plot, in both the book and the film, exemplifies the quest genre, with the classic arc–as the hero leaves the safety and familiarity of home to embark on a perilous journey into the unknown, where he must overcome various ordeals–after which he returns home somewhat transformed by his experience. A refining experience. A maturing experience.

In the film, Max is an angry young boy. Abandoned by his sister. Abandoned by his father. He has no friends his own age. His sister, with whom he used to be inseparable, has deserted him for older boys–leaving him seething with jealous rage. His misses his father, whom he lost in the divorce.

To some extent he even feels abandoned by his mother. Yes, she loves him-–but he must now share her affections with the new boyfriend. That, too, leaves him in a jealous rage. He feels betrayed by his nearest and dearest. So he escapes to the island of the wild things.

And that is where the film, although this is a story about children, is not a story for children. At this point it is not about childhood as seen through the eyes of a child. Rather, it’s about childhood as seen through the eyes of an adult.

The island represents the loss of childhood. The loss of innocence. Disillusionment with the world.

The wild things only have each other. They want each other. Need each other. Yet they hurt each other. They need more from each other than they can give each other.

They have nothing to live for. No purpose in life. They simply exist on this rugged, isolated island. Imprisoned by the sea.

This isn’t a tropical paradise. Rather, it’s more like hell. Eternal futility. Longing without belonging.

The wild things are monsters. Existing on the dusky outskirts of a nightmare.

Here is a world without any safety protocols. A world where anything can happen to you. A godless world. A godforsaken world. A world without a savior.

The wild things constitute a family of sorts, but it’s like a family get-together of Chicago mobsters. The loud, boisterous aunts and uncles, cousins, in-laws, and pater familias. They can be effusive one moment, but turn on you the next.

True to the quest genre, the plot has a resolution of sorts, as Max returns home to the open embrace of his mother. But even if that’s a resolution for Max, it’s not a resolution for the story as a whole.

For Max must leave the wild things behind–trapped on the island. Imprisoned in their brokenness. There is no resolution for the wild things–standing on the shore, watching him sail away.


  1. How about the Book of Eli?

  2. I read a couple of reviews, but I haven't seen it.

  3. Oh yeah... I totally forgot about this movie. When I first saw the preview of it, I thought the voices mismatched the physique of some of the monsters, but I still somewhat wanted to see this in theaters because it looked great, but never did.
    Thanks for the review! Maybe I'll Netflix this one.

  4. You nailed it, Steve. If this movie is good for anything, it's showing how unsatisfying and hopeless a world without God is. The attempt at reconciliation at the end is pitiful. I previewed it in case my kids might enjoy it and I won't recommend it to them for their enjoyment. I might let them see it as instructive of the fallen world for surely their budding faith will be tested with the false hope of this world. But it's not very enjoyable for Christians who know true hope in our Lord.