Thursday, December 17, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)


After a violent fight with his mother in which he ends up biting her, Max (Max Records) flees his house hoping to get away from his current situation. Max hops into a boat he finds by the pond, and travels to a mysterious island ran by the wild ones. Quickly declared their king, Max struggles with his new duties and inability to solve everyone's problems.

Riddled with subtext, emotional scorn, quiet moments, and dark insight, Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are is a hard hitting look at the troubles of childhood. Following Max we see the various issues he encounters on a daily basis, his desire to have friends, and be befriended. Max feels outcast from society, his efforts to interact on a daily basis end badly, and he struggles with his mom's new romantic life. His feelings of social annexation are easy to relate to, and are at the heart of Jonze's film. Take for example the wild things. While a group they often feel disjoint from one another, often discussing their own loneliness even amongst supposed friends. As well each represents a unique character attribute of Max and those closest too him. They're a reflection of how he perceives himself, and those around him, and his attempts to understand why things are the way they are.

At the heart of this film is Max Records who at only 12 years old (probably closer to 10 when this was made) shows a great range of emotion, really nailing those quiet moments of Max's daily existence. I must admit the voice acting of Gandolfini, Dano, O'Hara, Whitaker, Cooper, Ambrose, and Berry Jr. took me a while to get used to, as did the way their characters are done. Catherine Keener is great in her couple of scenes, but not given a lot to work with, and Mark Ruffalo is given even less. Even still it's the writing that allows all of Jonze's vision to come into true form.

The dialogue is often heavy handed, riddled with emotion, and insight into the various characters, while each is supported by Jonze's relentless directing style. Breathing life into each character, Jonze has always had a knack for understanding the human spirit and relating to a wide variety of characters. This talent manages to take Maurice Sendak's short narrative and expand it into something new entirely, a truly powerful piece of cinema. Looking in depth and studying the emotional complexities of being a child, especially one without a father, it's hard to deny that Where the Wild Things Are is quite an amazing film to watch. In terms of mood and emotion I'd cautiously relate it to 2006's Pan's Labyrinth, in that much of it is open to interpretation, and as such can be analyzed and enjoyed upon multiple viewings. Of course with the strong emotional journal we go on, I'm not sure how many times you'd want to revisit it.

While flawed, Where the Wild Things Are is an emotional and unrelenting journey through the mind of a child trying to find his place in the world.

7 better thoughts:

Mara Torres Página no oficial (LabanaBlog) said...

No te lo pierdas: VÍDEO: Mara Torres entrevista a Spike Jonze en La 2 Noticas (única entrevista en televisión que ha concedido el cineasta con motivo del estreno de "Donde viven los monstruos"

Un saludo,

Mara Torres Página no oficial (LabanaBlog)

TheAnswerMVP2001 said...

^ I'd post my Spanish free TV watching site as well but I don't want to start a trend going here.

Anyway, this movie looks incredibly boring to me and all the hype it's getting from critics claiming it to be on of the best films of the decade is a clearer sign I'll probably hate it, plus you really liked it so that's probably another bad sign ;) But I might check it out on DVD.

The Mad Hatter said...

Good post!

I'm with you on this - I really dug it on its own merits. I wouldn't call this one of the best films of the decade, nor would it make my list of the very best of the year.

However, it is a rather charming movie, and does demonstrate (as you say) "an understanding of the human spirit".

Answer - do see it, but just watch it for something that's good & entertaining. Don't expect your life to be drastically altered.

...Now where can I find some free Spanish TV.

Univarn said...

@Mara usually I delete stuff but for whatever reason I find it hilarious so I'll leave it there :).

@MVP I think you should watch it. I don't know if you'd enjoy it, I have to say I was never bored throughout the runtime, something was always going on (the first 15 minutes may be the hardest for you to get through).

@Mad thanks. Because I haven't seen nearly as many movies as you this might sneak into my top films of the year. Once I get to see Fox, Up in the Air, Precious, Avatar, Nine, etc. I think it'll get bumped back.

Chase Kahn said...

I'm with you here, although I would even take it a step further. It's brilliant.

It became quite clear the second time I saw it that James Gandolfini's character and the Lauren Ambrose character at certain points represent Max's parents and their divorce. (Although KW could also represent Max's sister during the dirt-ball/snowball fight)

Essentially, the film is about Max coming to terms with his confused childhood and his father, who clearly left and doesn't have much of a relationship with him.

He doesn't really "learn" anything per se, but what the trip to the island does for him is to paint a psychological portrait of his life in a way that's more relatable to him - I think it's a nearly perfect film. Good review.

The Mad Hatter said...

@ Chase... Y'know, now that you mention it - I think the fact that there is no obvious lesson for Max to learn is what I liked most about it.

A story like this just begs for the moment of pure obviousness, where the score swells, the hero looks saddened, and the moral hits us over the head.

WILD THINGS stayed close to the book...MAX gets lonely and goes home, but not before subtly learning a few things about himself first.

Hmmm...this film might have just climbed a few pegs for me. Great observation!

Luke said...

I found it to be one of the most emotionally insightful movies in quite some time (which is saying something considering most of the characters were giant muppets). And I thought Records' performance was chillingly on point. I couldn't quite figure out how that kid mustered up that much nuance.

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