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Where the Wild Things Are


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#201 M. Leary

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Posted 12 November 2009 - 02:43 PM

This fantasy land of a child is never properly filtered through the perspective of a child. It may be in the most basic strokes, but in realization, it's not very child-like at all.


But this isn't how books and films really work. Authorial intention does factor into both the production and consumption experience of a given text or artifact, but it never provides a totalizing explanation or description of the experience. Both Sendak and Jonze seem to have a great handle on childhood, and intended to produce something that rehearses the experience of childhood. In the process a lot of perhaps unintended readerly effects ended up in the mix that are related to the fact that to think about childhood as an adult, one is forced to think about childhood as an adult. There is a lot of room there for authorial intentions to start slipping. It is odd to hear Sendak say about this very basic book that "the Wild Things are my aunts and uncles," but there it is. One could read the book an infinite amount of times and never make that connection, because it is a theoretical construct that only became part of the book's tradition-history incidentally, way after the fact. Now Jonze has also tossed a bunch into the mix.

This is all to say: It is senseless to say the film is "not very child-like at all." It is very sensible to say the film is not very "Where the Wild Things-like at all." If you don't like the film, that is the analytically proper root to lay your axe on. And, incidentally, it was the only root I could find to lay an axe on.

Edited by MLeary, 12 November 2009 - 03:05 PM.


#202 Ryan H.

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Posted 12 November 2009 - 04:00 PM

But this isn't how books and films really work.

Sure. I agree with what you say, actually. But my observation is really an extension of my primary complaint; I believe the film could have afforded to be more like the imagination of a child than it actually was because I think the film could stand to have more exuberance, more vitality, and whimsy. Whether it's ultimately childish or not is not really my primary concern. Variety of tone and mood is. Two hours with sad-eyed, quiet-voiced monsters in cold, sparse visual landscapes is not, for me at least, particularly profound, enjoyable, or even enriching. Just mopey.

Edited by Ryan H., 12 November 2009 - 04:12 PM.


#203 Overstreet

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 01:00 PM

Sicinski:

... While I suppose it's understandable that some would find this Freudian / Jungian fabulism irksome, almost like a kids' movie without the courage of its own convictions, I think it's actually rather radical. WTWTA takes childhood seriously, exploring it, as it were, like another country, a thicket of conflicting impulses and half-comprehended fragments, a webwork woven through an adult world to which the youngest among us have only limited access. The very architecture of the island conveys this. Grand from a distance, porous and twisty up close, Max and the monsters build titanic modernist forms from twigs, interior and exterior, solidity and light, all merging into one. In turn, Max's mental and emotional life is interwoven with an semi-objective lifeworld, one that is ostensibly his, but only within certain parameters.



#204 Overstreet

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 08:11 PM

Just saw someone tweet that A.O. Scott put this film in his top five of the decade. I want to see that list.

#205 Ryan H.

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 08:13 PM

Just saw someone tweet that A.O. Scott put this film in his top five of the decade. I want to see that list.

Fascinating.

#206 Overstreet

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 09:13 PM

Dargis reviewed it for the NYTimes, but I would love to have seen Scott's review if he liked it that much. I wonder if he wrote about it anywhere.

#207 Christian

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 10:08 PM

Dargis reviewed it for the NYTimes, but I would love to have seen Scott's review if he liked it that much. I wonder if he wrote about it anywhere.

He wrote a NY Times Magazine piece in November about his first 10 years at the paper, but I don't think he mentioned the film in that article. I Googled and found the Wikipedia entry for Scott is unveiling Scott's list. Here it is, minus the top few slots. He's still in the process of revelaing the films.

On 24 October 2009, Scott began counting down his "Best of the Decade" list on At the Movies.

Edited by Christian, 08 December 2009 - 10:09 PM.


#208 Ryan H.

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 01:49 AM


Dargis reviewed it for the NYTimes, but I would love to have seen Scott's review if he liked it that much. I wonder if he wrote about it anywhere.

He wrote a NY Times Magazine piece in November about his first 10 years at the paper, but I don't think he mentioned the film in that article. I Googled and found the Wikipedia entry for Scott is unveiling Scott's list. Here it is, minus the top few slots. He's still in the process of revelaing the films.

On 24 October 2009, Scott began counting down his "Best of the Decade" list on At the Movies.

I'm filled with great dismay that MILLION DOLLAR BABY found a place on Scott's list.

#209 Christian

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 09:42 AM

Ryan: I saw that film after reading Scott's review, filled with great hope. Dropped $100 on a date night with my wife, culminating with that film, which I was sure would be great.

Scott, of course, didn't give away the ending, which is his prerogative. But my wife had made it clear, several times earlier in our relationship, that if there's one thing she can't stand to see in a movie or TV show, it's suicide.

She walked out of the theater when the film had about 5 minutes to go. I stuck around, sure that there would be some life-affirming twist.

She went home stewing, although she realized I didn't knowingly send her to a film that included content she'd object to.

We still talk about what a disastrous date-night that was.

Edited by Christian, 09 December 2009 - 09:43 AM.


#210 stu

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Posted 14 December 2009 - 05:32 AM

I watched Where the wild things are on saturday, and the X factor final on sunday, and it is completely clear to me that the one is about the other. On sunday, the nation crowned itself a new king. And now everything is good again. But the new king has to do their best to avoid looking at the pile of bones that their shiny new crown is picked out of. "Those? I don't know anything about that. Those were like that when we got here." And we know what happens to kings - in the end, we always eat them up. Just ask Leon, or Shane, or... ok, I don't know any others.

Anyway, pop-Girardian analysis aside, I really, really liked the film, even though it might have been a bit boring in the middle. I loved the way Max pulled at the toe of his mother's tights, and I loved the dialogue in Max's first encounter with the Wild Things. And for some reason it made sense to me that the Wild Things would be sad, even though re-reading (or re-looking at) the book they don't really seem sad, more sort of gleefully manic. And I thought Carol's voice was particularly good. But mainly, it just looked beautiful.

I may have more, or less, intelligent things to say about it soon.

Edited by stu, 14 December 2009 - 05:34 AM.


#211 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 05 December 2010 - 06:04 PM

And replacing a regular hot meal with a slice of cake is basically replacing the essentials of life (the warmth of home, etc.) with a luxury dish that, in this context, almost carries the connotation of parental overcompensation. (I'm probably not wording that as well as I could, but time is tight...)

I may respond to some of the other points, but for now, Glenn Kenny has posted his report on his second viewing of the film:

... And while one of my commenters rather hilariously compared the film's creatures to the Hanna-Barbara live-action creatures The Banana Splits, the animatronic/CGI hybrids are entirely believable and all beautifully voiced. The problem is, once I came to believe in them, I wanted to get away from them as fast as humanly possible. If the film's Max is, let's face it, a bit of a dick even as nine-year-olds go, these whingey wild things are simply annoying, and not in a particularly engaging way. Watching the rages of the most complicated thing, Carol, as he destroys the forest homes of the wild things while moaning how things aren't supposed to be like this, I was rather reminded of the half-fake tantrums that singer David Thomas throws during Pere Ubu sets. The thing is that said tantrums are punctuated and/or buttressed by genuinely visionary, kick-ass rock and roll. This is what some people call a dialectic. In any case, Carol doesn't have the rest of Pere Ubu backing him up, just these other neurotic feathery simps.

... Maurice Sendak's original book was about an awful lot of things (and with so few words!), one of which was the infectious fun of potentially destructive mischief-making. Here, the mischief is bombastic, ugly, and scored to Karen O's lameoid simulation of a Go Team! song. The film knows plenty about confusion and reality and sadness, okay; it knows almost nothing about a good time, and laughter. ("Does anybody remember laughter?"—R. Plant) ...

As for the ending: yes, maybe I overreacted...and maybe not. I'll allow that the expression on Max's face as his mother begins to sleep, and he continues munching on his cake is finally unreadable, but as far as I'm concerned the damn kid is still a little too pleased with himself. . . .

More later. Gotta get the kids from preschool.

Count me among the bored and dissapointed along with Ryan H., Chattaway, Whitman, LibrarianDeb, and Glenn Kenny on this one. Bored. Bored. Bored. I loved Maurice Sendak's artwork in a whole number of books when I was little (Where the Wild Things Are was just one of them). But I cannot believe how Jonze and Eggers turned this into an angsty angstsy angst-fest full of the scary, loveable, dangerous looking monsters I remember from my childhood transformed into petty, annoying, whiny, little large brats. In this film it took about 5 minutes of them talking for them to not be scary any more. Emo psycho-babble, anyone? Complaining about being sad and lonely and "I wanna!" and "I don't wanna!" and blah, blah, blah. Absolutely nothing of the "numinous" that C.S. Lewis talked about and advocated for fairy tales AND the whimsey necessary in order to not take yourself too seriously (both of which is the sort of thing you can get from Pan's Labyrinth, Sleeping Beauty, Penelope, or heck, even Enchanted or Stardust). Some of Grimm's Fairy Tales were sad and dark, but they didn't screw around trying to be all psychologically PC for the adults of the time. One of the saddest fairy tales of all time, George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind, explores a number of difficult emotions dealt with by a child, but it was redemptive instead of merely depressing. T.H. White's Sword and the Stone has young children fighting and quarreling with each other (as do the Narnia stories), but the point of the petty arguing wasn't to demonstrate sadness (and hopelessness, the sun, after all, is going to die), it was to provide a situation for the character to overcome and learn from (and ultimately grow in moral character and self-sacrifice).

Just look at Sendack's book for Pete's sake. There's a light or a joy in the eyes of the monsters in those illustrations. The CGI'd eyes of the monsters in this rubbish are large, frequently tear-filled, and ultimately sorrowful. Max just helps them blink away the tears for a little while, until he isn't really able to change anything.
Posted Image

I knew this reminded me of something though from when I was a kid. The quarrels of the wild things in this film are exactly like the quarrels my little friends and I used to have in the middle of a baseball game years and years ago. But "exactly like" isn't quite true. None of us brooded over getting hit in the back of the head with a baseball, snowball, pinecone, dirt clod, whatever. I refuse to believe children are this sad and mopey all the time. And if some of them are, they certainly don't need a fantasy film to help continue and cement the mood. In my personal opinion, fantasy stories are supposed to awaken a sense of "otherness" in the person hearing the story. This, in turn, affects the way you view the real world around you. C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald's fairy tales did that. Maurice Sendack and Arthur Rackham's fairy tale illustrations did that. Jonze & Eggers angsty, talky film doesn't, and that is it's greatest crime.

Angst? Check. Weltschmerz? Check. Depression? Check. Mid-Life 8-year-old crisis? Check. Exit the awe, or wonder, or the "numinous", or the "otherness," or the whimsy of Sendack.

On another side note: Every single time Carol cried or complained about something, all I could think of was that he should have been sitting in the office of Dr. Melfi. Maybe that helped ruin it for me too, but the whining Carol has a voice too distinctive. It just sounded off without all the appropriate and descriptive curse words that are supposed to go along with that sort of thing.

Great visuals. Nice turning some of the illustrations into images on the film. Great performance by Max Records. Bad, bad, scriptwriting.

Edited by Persiflage, 05 December 2010 - 06:07 PM.


#212 Persona

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 01:28 AM

Count me among the bored and dissapointed along with Ryan H., Chattaway, Whitman, LibrarianDeb, and Glenn Kenny on this one.


I guess I may as well come out of the closet and admit that's my reaction too.

Great visuals. Nice turning some of the illustrations into images on the film. Great performance by Max Records. Bad, bad, scriptwriting.


Somewhat agreed, but I'm in the camp that thinks the script might have been better than the film turned out to be.

#213 Brian D

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 04:25 PM

Wow, this has become one of the true love-it-or-hate-it movies of our day (at least for the A&F site)! It seems that the love of it runs very deep in many and the dislike of it runs equally deep in others. How much of our reactions to it are influenced by our own childhoods and our experience with the book? Even more interesting to me, how much of this love and dislike/disgust that we feel in our hearts over this film can we truly explain with our words?
Though I arrived at this film that's received such mixed reaction expecting to have a mixed reaction myself, I stumbled into love for this movie almost without thinking about it. My response on the heart level was immediate and profound, so much so that I quickly filed this away in my mind as one of my very favorite movies, period.
What is it about this movie that cut to me so deeply? On the mind level, I can say it is because it seemed to speak so truly and directly of the phenomenon of human brokenness, particularly as played out in the tragedy of broken families. Everything seemed to me to be of a piece with this, vibrating with the sadness and flickering hope of a child's experience of this brokenness. Ultimately, though, the way the movie cut to my heart so deeply is a mystery.
We must admit that such a wide divergence of opinion (of hot and cold, without much lukewarm) on this movie is fascinating. It is fascinating for its mystery (how do we explain why I like this movie and you like that one?), fascinating in regard to the uniqueness of a film that can create such polarity, and fascinating for the things it may say about the unique ways God has created each one of us.

#214 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 12:36 AM

Brian D wrote:
: On the mind level, I can say it is because it seemed to speak so truly and directly of the phenomenon of human brokenness, particularly as played out in the tragedy of broken families.

And the book, of course, has nothing to do with that. Nothing What So Ever. (I say this as one who reads it every now and then to my kids.)

I know some critics say the theme is there if you "read between the lines", but I think they're imposing something onto the story more than anything else (or they are simply allowing the film to impose it on their behalf, or something like that). If you want to "read between the lines" and find a broken-family theme in a beloved children's story, then your efforts would be better spent on something like the Toy Story franchise (where Andy's dad is never seen, not even on Christmas Day, and Andy's mom moves the kids to a new house when Molly, the younger of the two kids, is still just 1 or 2 years old). But the fact that Max's dad might not have been home for supper one night isn't indicative of anything at all.

Admittedly, there are other reasons to critique the film, and if the book had never existed then I might have liked the film more. But the book DOES exist, and indeed the movie wouldn't exist without it, so.

#215 Ryan H.

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 06:35 AM

Brian D wrote:
: On the mind level, I can say it is because it seemed to speak so truly and directly of the phenomenon of human brokenness, particularly as played out in the tragedy of broken families.

And the book, of course, has nothing to do with that. Nothing What So Ever. (I say this as one who reads it every now and then to my kids.)

Indeed.

Edited by Ryan H., 08 December 2010 - 06:40 AM.


#216 SDG

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 07:49 AM

But the book DOES exist, and indeed the movie wouldn't exist without it, so.

So. What?

#217 Overstreet

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 11:10 AM

But the book DOES exist, and indeed the movie wouldn't exist without it, so.

So. What?


It's Children of Men all over again.

As far as I'm concerned, filmmakers are free to craft a film that was "inspired by" a book as loosely or as faithfully as they like.

Especially if the author is involved and admires what's happening.

Which is the case here.

Then we should assess the film on its own merits, with some observations about its faithfulness to the book.

I love the book.

I love the movie every bit as much or more.

And yes, they are two very different experiences. God bless creativity.

Edited by Overstreet, 08 December 2010 - 11:11 AM.


#218 Phill Lytle

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 11:12 AM


But the book DOES exist, and indeed the movie wouldn't exist without it, so.

So. What?


It's Children of Men all over again.

As far as I'm concerned, filmmakers are free to craft a film that was "inspired by" a book as loosely or as faithfully as they like.

Especially if the author is involved and admires what's happening.

Which is the case here.

Then we should assess the film on its own merits, with some observations about its faithfulness to the book.

I love the book.

I love the movie every bit as much or more.

And yes, they are two very different experiences. God bless creativity.


Amen!

#219 SDG

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 11:36 AM

Thank you, Jeff.

#220 Ryan H.

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 11:42 AM

It's Children of Men all over again.

As far as I'm concerned, filmmakers are free to craft a film that was "inspired by" a book as loosely or as faithfully as they like.

They sure are. But they better make something that's at least as strong as the original work. In the case of both CHILDREN OF MEN and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, the adaptors took some genuinely compelling source material and refashioned it into something considerably less compelling. My opinion, of course.