The Journey Inward
We took our kids to the movies to watch a kid film. Occasionally they don’t enjoy kid films, feeling they are too old for the story at times. “Finding Nemo” has become one of these. I watch it from time to time and they ultimately end up on the couch with me, but they insist that it is too little for them.
But this trip to the cinema proved just the opposite, with my wife and I enjoying the film better than our daughters. It wasn’t too young but rather too intense. I’m not bashing the film. The depths of the emotions (anger, fear, loneliness, sadness) was greater than they were ready to experience in one one hundred minute dose. They even enjoyed it for the most part; it was more of a cumulative effect.
The film was “Where the Wild Things Are”. When I first heard this film was being made, I didn’t want to see it. I enjoyed the book more as an adult than as a kid, but I felt certain the movie would suck. Recent history supports this. Most attempts to stretch a children’s picture book into a feature length film results in horrendous bastardizations of the original story. I changed my mind when I heard that Spike Jonze was directing. I love his films. It was a hard to picture him doing something for kids, but I knew it would be good. Then the trailers made it obvious that they had captured the look Maurice’s Sendak’s art. It was worth the gamble.
The story of a child being overwhelmed by his life and losing control of his emotions resulting in his running away caught my attention. For one thing, the film, like the original story, has the power to magically transform me into a kid Max’s age. I think this stems from an understanding for and strong remembrance of childhood expressed by the director, writers and actors, returning themselves to what it feels like to be that age too. Then they took the story deeper without adding much to it. Then the filmmakers let this all become real, to mimic life and kids without attempts to pretty up everything for a nice Hollywood experience.
The true beauty of this film wasn’t just a journey into the imagination but also a journey inward. Max, when facing the wild things, is actually facing his emotions. These are big, scary things he can barely control, even as their supposed king. The feeling that they will destroy him and consume him sounds all too familiar. The reality is that even as adults feel this way, so too do kids. They are humans and have the full human array of emotions even though they don’t have the language to articulate it; they also the ability to experience them more deeply because they haven’t always built up defenses and filters like adults. Too often, because children don’t have these complexities we forget that they can still experience the full complexity of feelings.
That reminder is the power of this film.