Sunday, October 18, 2009
If you think this will somehow translate into an experience heartwarming or magical, then you've forgotten what the experience was actually like.
That's okay. Where the Wild Things Are will remind you.
It is, above all, honest. Children are a violent and self centered lot. Jonze's portrayal of youth is akin to J.M. Barrie's. Lacking the perspective to understand the needs of others, children are trapped in an almost solipsistic reality in which they are driven mad by the universe's refusal to bend to their will. There is a tragedy to innocence: children are ultimately alone in their own world.
Where the Wild Things Are explores this fearlessly. It is also one of the most somber films we've ever seen, delving into its characters' pain and confusion. The Wild Things are as dangerous and cruel as children themselves. But, like Peter Pan, they won't grow up. They are trapped forever; confused, angry, and alone. And in pain.
You will feel for them.
Maurice Sendak has made some comments recently in which he brutally attacked critics of this film. We assumed, as is only natural, that such attacks were motivated by his authorship of the book. Now we know better: it is the only rational reaction we can imagine to criticism of this picture. Apparently, more than thirty percent of critics disagree.
What is truly remarkable is how different Jonze's vision of this world is to what we've imagined. We remember the book as a primal fantasy, but nothing about this movie feels like fantasy, at all. Everything that happens, no matter how surreal or bizarre, is real. There is no magic here, only emotion and pain. Yet, somehow, this comes across as far more beautiful than anything we could have imagined.
It is a stellar film, a new classic "children's" movie. It defies comparison: it is unlike any movie we can think of. It is reminiscent of children's films which have dared cross genres and delve into difficult themes. Watership Down. Spirited Away. The Last Unicorn. Coraline. These are, of course, all animated, and, in a sense, Where the Wild Things Are is as well: most of the movie revolves around puppets and digital effects. But, in another sense, there is nothing animated here at all. This is a work or realism, which incorporates monsters and impossibilities. These are only tools, however: even before Max leaves for the island we were entranced by the world Jonze created. Max's irritation at school, the fights with his family, and the intricacies of his life were no less fascinating than the monsters he went on to befriend.
This movie has no real comparison, which often creates problems for us when rating. Not this time, however. This time it's easy.