Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
When I was a kid, there was once when I got mad at my family and rode my bike to a fort in the woods that my friends and I had made. This is just a preface to say that I get Max, our protagonist in Where the Wild Things Are, and I think the reason the book is such a classic is the emotions it evokes. Who doesn't remember the childhood moments when you wanted to be somewhere else?
So here comes the movie version of Sendak's classic picture book. In many ways, it follows the basic plotline of the book and just adds details. Max gets mad at his mom, escapes (instead of going to his room like in the book), and ends up on an island of Wild Things, where he is made their king. I thought the opening of this movie was extremely strong and poignant in giving us a view of the world through Max's eyes. When he gets to the island, viewers are in for a shock. Almost immediately, Max is beset by the human-like problems of the wild things. One has anger issues, one has acceptance issues, and they all lack a certain sense of purpose. The monsters reflect emotions that Max has been feeling towards his own mother and sister. In order to get back home, he has to somehow face and deal with these issues.
Sendak personally chose director Spike Jonze for the project, and I think he made a great choice. Jonze's only other two movies are the mind-bending Being John Malkovich (a personal favorite) and Adapation (another fascinating movie). What Wild Things has in common with these two movies is the way it uses fantasy to project elemental human feelings of desire, conflict, and inadequacy. Are Max's feelings of anger really so far off of Charlie Kaufman's (Nicolas Cage) in Adaptation?
The movie consistently kept me hooked on an intellectual level. At times, I could hardly believe the heavy emotions that the movie was giving to the Wild Things. Throughout the movie, I was constantly finding the connections between Max's life and these wild things. I also loved the music and the cinematography (the fantasy sequences were shot in Australia). Unfortunately, I don't think this movie is the unqualified masterpiece I was hoping for (or that it could have been). While the problems of the Wild Things were fascinating, I would have liked a little more unadulterated childlike wonder, at least when Max first encounters the creatures. I also thought that there were a few too many creatures so that it was difficult to care about them all. The movie definitely began and ended good, and there are some truly great sequences, but also a few too many parts that begin to feel repetitive.
This movie is by far one of the most thought provoking of this year's movies, and you should definitely see it. It has so much going for it, I just wish it crossed the line into greatness.