Max is trying to figure out the world around him and he’s very confused. His big sister whom he adores no longer give him the time of day and his mother is dating. When Max sees his mother kiss a man in their living room he acts out, throwing a fit for his mother and running out of the house; as he runs he goes further into the recesses of his imagination and discovers the land of the wild things. This is a land where the large, scary monsters are actually friends, and Max is king of it all.
When I was in film school a professor once told me adaptations weren’t so much about being literally faithful to the events, but finding and capturing the spirit of the story. The fact that Spike Jonze was able to fully capture the spirit of Maurice Sendak’s book and turn it into a fully realized feature film for Where the Wild Things Are astounds me. The book is all of 10 sentences about childhood temper tantrums, disappointment, anger and imagination and Jonze found a full length film in this; he turned it into a film about what it’s like to be a child without control over anything and being on the precipice of wanting to understand adult concepts and wanting to run away from change and anything that might actually make you grow up.
Despite being a brilliant film, Where the Wild Things Are will not be a popular movie. Like most films of its kind, people go into a movie like this and whether they are conscious of it or not they expect a glossy, happy children’s movie. Where the Wild Things Are is not that film, and it is better for it, but the fact that there is violence, scary moments, and that Max is a liar and sometimes a bully will turn people off. However, it is these things about the film and about Max that make the movie transcend from being a children’s movie and turn into a beautiful film experience. Through the course of a fight with his mother and a trip into an imaginary land Max completes a character arch, one that teaches him he can’t control the world around him no matter what he pretends and all that really matters is that his family loves him. This might be a simplistic character arch, but it is the arch of a child, and a child is what the movie and the book is all about.
Director: Spike Jonze
Writers: Spike Jonze & Dave Eggers
Max: Max Records
Mom: Catherine Keener
Carol: James Gandolfini
Alexander: Paul Dano
Judith: Catherine O’Hara
Ira: Forest Whitaker
The Bull: Michael Berry Jr.
Douglas: Chris Cooper
KW: Lauren Ambrose
Carol: It's going to be a place where only the things you want to happen, would happen.
Max: We could totally build a place like that!