Sunday, November 8, 2009

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Spike Jonze, 2009, USA) Max learns that growing up doesn’t mean you have to lose all your baby teeth. Director Spike Jonze adapts the Maurice Sendak classic about the child who lives inside us all, filled with wonder, terror, anxiety and, most of all, love. Jonze expands a few hundred words into a feature length narrative, adding depth to Max’s family drama and allowing his wild rumpus upon the island of misfit monsters to become an extended metaphor concerning parental angst. The wonderful cinematography utilizes hand-held cameras and focuses from Max’s powerless perspective, shooting from low angles so the world of grown-ups seems large and domineering, and a crushing weight upon his maturing psyche. Max has his tenuous hopes crushed like a fragile snow fort, vying for his family’s attention but always being pushed aside: he’s a little boy competing with older men (his mother’s beau and sister’s boyfriend) for the love he so desperately needs. But this isn’t really a children’s film; it is a story for adults who desire to recapture the quicksilver imagination of youth, who have forgotten that dreams can conquer fear, and happiness is but a simple bowl of warm soup…and a mother’s smile. The film’s power is in evoking these childhood musings, and I was flooded with forgotten memories of a Maple tree that scraped ominously at my window like a monstrous claw; playing games as we embarked upon the great Arctic trek walking deftly on the slick ice that coated the snow, and if we broke through we’d die; trying to walk from one end of the house to the other without touching the floor because it was filled with lava; or the endless dirt-ball battles that would leave us crying and laughing, still young enough to be bathed together by our parents. It also reflects the dark fears that haunt childhood, ones which we often repress; those of loneliness and misunderstanding. Max runs away and creates his own world, but soon discovers that being a parent is difficult business because he can’t make his disciples happy: they must find their own way, though love is an integral integer in life’s equation. Jonze’s film is arguably plotless and composed of emotional vignettes, but that’s how children view their routines when life is taken moment by moment. The major flaw I find is in the depiction of Max running away instead of escaping in his own bedroom: what mother would sit idly by when their child disappears into the dark snowy night? The soundtrack is playfully unique, a helter-skelter of driving rhythms and angelic harmonies. The final mise-en-scene is delightfully subdued, without words, emotions expressed with the subtlest of gestures. Life is good. (B)

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