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Cinema Sunday (10/18/09) October 18, 2009

Posted by monty in movies.
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WIld things poster

I was the kid who talked to himself.  The woods behind my parents’ house seemed dense and impenetrable, and I remember spending long summer days among its trunks, the humid summer sun filtering through the leaves and showering streamers of green light on me.  I turned sticks into swords and fought the monsters that lurked in the underbrush.  The bigger branches, fallen and stripped of their leaves in last winter’s storms, could be propped up on end and, when I had found enough of them, turned into the walls of that summer’s fortress.  It would be my base of operations for three months, and from its bark walls I would launch my daily attacks on the creatures that threatened my kingdom.

I called these my advenures. When I’d leave the house and my mom would ask where I was going, I’d tell her, “I’m going to go have an adventure.”  Sometimes these adventures would spill out of the woods and into the cornstalks that bordered the trees.  I could hide in their rows and plan my next maneuver from the depths of their whispering tassels.  I would emerge from the stalks at the end of the day, dirt-stained, sweaty, and triumphant.  These were my adventures, and I brooked no defeat.  There were setbacks, of course, just as there are in any good adventure – ferocious river rapids to cross, dragons whose wings blotted out the sky, towering castle walls just begging to be scaled – but I was the hero, and my victory was all but preordained.

Wild Things 1

Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are took me back to these days more forcefully than any personal photograph ever could.  I don’t remember much of Maurice Sendak’s book, but the film stands on its own, telling the story of Max, a kid with anger issues and a vivid imagination, who sails far away from home and finds adventures of his own among the titular characters.  It’s certainly one of the most visually beautiful movies I’ve ever seen, each shot a painting waiting to happen.  Dense forests.  Barren, windswept dunes.  Roiling seas.  And the Wild Things themselves are perfectly rendered, striking a balance between live action and animation, and always seeming as real as the world Max left behind.

Wild Things 2

The argument could be made – and made forcefully – that this is not a kid’s movie.  I don’t think the Wild Things would be frightening to children (at least I didn’t hear anyone crying today), but the tone of the movie is exquisitely lonely, and the pace is slow.  There are periodic sequences of action, but these don’t last long.  Max takes on the mantle of king and, among other things, talks the Wild Things into building a huge fortress and having a dirt-clod war.  But these Wild Things are aimless and forlorn, and Max, as their king, is equally rudderless. If there’s a point to the movie, it’s that living in a world of fantasy and imagination won’t solve your problems.

Wild Things 3

I don’t have a typical review for the movie, simply because my response to it wasn’t typical.  It made think about when I was Max, and the lessons I’ve learned about growing up that he was just in the process of discovering for himself.  It made me wonder what the boy I was would think about the man I’ve become.  I’ve sworn off sticks and swords and cornstalks for work and bills and getting by.  There once was a time when I never would have passed up the chance to storm the castle, rescue the damsel, fight the beast.  But now?  Now I’d never even think of attempting it.  The boy would feel disappointed, I think, and a little betrayed.  I let him down by growing up.

I don’t know if Where the Wild Things Are works as a traditional film with a narrative arc that people will find engaging and entertaining.  But it made my heart hurt.  And that means it did something very right.

*****

Current listening:

Stereo performance

Stereophonics – Performance and Cocktails

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