Jump to content


Photo

Where the Wild Things Are


  • Please log in to reply
235 replies to this topic

#221 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,146 posts

Posted 08 December 2010 - 12:33 PM

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.

I guess while I've objected that the joyful spirit of the book is rejected for the film, I acknowledge that filmmakers should be able to use or not use source material however they desire.

The more I think about it, my primary objection is a twist on the C.S. Lewis essay On Three Ways of Writing For Children. In that essay, Lewis argues that fantasy and fairy tales are generally more healthy than modern tales. Reading of an enchanted world makes the real world just a little enchanted. Reading of the sordid, modern world is a real form of escapism, because it builds up false hopes and impressions of the real world. So Lewis said he prefers a story of monsters and dragons to a story about a regular schoolboy in a regular school.

What the filmmakers did here, however, was make a story of monsters, but then fill it with all the same modern values of a boring schoolboy story. The monsters turn out not to be very scary monsters at all. Instead, they are very modern, emotionally fragile, sad, depressed, petty, immature replacements for a child's companions at school. Their talk has led critics to discuss which monster represents the Id and the Ego and the Super-Ego ... or the distant sister, or the divorced father, or the busy mother ... or mad Max, or destructive Max, or sad Max. Jonze took what should have been a dangerous and enchanting fairy tale like C.S. Lewis argued was healthy, and proceeded to modernize the hell out of it - so that it's all talky talk about emotional and psychological issues. Child shrinks should be buying the film in droves. In my opinion, if you're going to give me a story of a child entering another enchanted world - keep your modern hand-wringing, disallusioned, regular old schoolboy story out of it - instead give me real monsters that are actually really scary, dangerous, and magical. Not just a psychological replacement for all the kids abandonment issues with school playground angst-monster substitutes.

So again, my objection to the film is less that they didn't perfectly follow the book, and more what seems to be their philosophy behind why they made it like they did. The book is only relevant to me in so far as I enjoyed some images from the film because they were images taken from the book. I don't want to criticize anyone else for liking this. Everyone here who did like (or love) this thing obviously isn't seeing any creeping corruption of fairy tales in the film, and that's a good thing. But after getting that impression from the film myself, I can't help but resent it.

Edited by Persiflage, 08 December 2010 - 01:58 PM.


#222 Overstreet

Overstreet

    Sometimes, there's a man.

  • Member
  • 17,400 posts

Posted 08 December 2010 - 01:20 PM

A few more thoughts:

When I was ten or eleven, I started bringing Chad Addams collections home from the library. My mom was happy to see my developing in interest in cartooning, and she probably didn't notice just how macabre and adult some of Addams' humor was. But I came to love the dangerous edge of those cartoons, and how they let cartoon characters explore ideas that expanded the range of what humor and illustrations could do. Addams' phantasmagoric full-page comics were often incredibly detailed and even beautiful... and then you'd feel the pinprick of the one subversive detail that would change the whole picture... like finding a sniper in a tree in a Thomas Kinkade painting. It took something I was already familiar with - cartoons about monsters - and introduced that cartoon-loving 11-year-old to a new level of storytelling sophistication.

I think it's a great idea for the adults who grew up with Where the Wild Things Are to have this movie as a way of revisiting and reinterpreting a story they grew up with... so its possibilities can continue to unfold. It builds upon, instead of replacing.

As a parent, I wouldn't take my kids to this film until they were 10 or 11. The book is suitable for younger kids whose parents will talk with them about it. But for teens who are becoming capable of a more sophisticated perspective on independence, rebellion, and the fallibility of the adults in their lives, I think this film is a useful and provocative new spin on the story. I'm sure some kids will find it boring, others will find it scary (I found the monsters scary in their violence and in the Henson workshop's marvelously creepy way of imbuing these hulking characters with complex personalities and nuances), and others will find it interesting.

I didn't need the monsters to be terrifying, in part because the monsters' silliness and sense of fun endeared them to me as a kid. I knew they were dangerous, but having been bullied on the playground, I knew that the same characters who could do me harm might also some days act as my friends. So it seemed right to me to see monsters who were also petulant, childish, mercurial.

A friend of mine who grew up in a very messed up family, and who since has struggled with an adult rebelliousness that seems at time to be almost irrepressible, refers to this book as "the story of her childhood." The movie arrived and she fell deeply in love with it, because it is a meaningful way for her to remember how her childhood sufferings are influencing her adulthood.

All of that to say, the movie doesn't arrive with an "Ages 5-10" sticker stamped on it. If it had, I think I would have had some reservations. But it was presented to us as an interpretation for an audience rather different than the toddlers who first encounter the book. The marketing made it very clear that this was not a kiddie movie, with its Arcade Fire soundtrack and its glimpses of Max's troubled home life. Plus, with the publication of Eggers novelisation, I think it was kind of hard to miss that this was an event meant for grownups as much as, if not more than, for kids.

You may not have enjoyed it, but it's not like this is the first fairy tale re-presented to adults to help us see that such stories can offer all kinds of interpretations relevant to any aspect of our lives at any age. That is, to some extent, what Catherine Breillat is doing in her recent takes on fairy tales.

Edited by Overstreet, 08 December 2010 - 01:24 PM.


#223 Peter T Chattaway

Peter T Chattaway

    He's fictional, but you can't have everything.

  • Member
  • 30,016 posts

Posted 08 December 2010 - 01:33 PM

Overstreet wrote:
: It's Children of Men all over again.

No it isn't, because many of the people who praised that film (including you) were not familiar with the book, at least not during the initial wave of praise.

: 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.

I look forward to your positive reappraisal of Andrew Adamson's Narnia movies.

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

I look forward to your positive reappraisal of George Lucas's "special editions" of the Star Wars movies.

Surely you know as well as anyone that people change over time, and that a work of art is not its author, especially when the two have been separated by over four decades.

And in this case, the movie isn't even the author's work of art to begin with. Rather, it is a hipster Gen-Xer's appropriation of a work of art that he grew up with, and he has forced it to fit the narrative of a purportedly typical hipster Gen-Xer's life. And so, just as Adamson didn't film the Narnia books but filmed his "memory" of the books, Jonze has filmed not Sendak's book but something else instead. That might very well be good enough for Sendak, but that doesn't mean it has to be for the rest of us.

Ryan H. wrote:
: They sure are. But they better make something that's at least as strong as the original work.

Quite so. Although I have sometimes gotten a kick out of films that were weaker than the book but deliberately subverted themes in the book that I thought were questionable to begin with (e.g. I, Robot).

Persiflage wrote:
: . . . What the filmmakers did here, however, was make a story of monsters, but then fill it with all the same modern values of a boring schoolboy story.

This has to be one of the most brilliant citings of Lewis I've ever seen here at A&F. :)

#224 Overstreet

Overstreet

    Sometimes, there's a man.

  • Member
  • 17,400 posts

Posted 08 December 2010 - 01:48 PM

[quote][quote name='Peter T Chattaway' date='08 December 2010 - 10:33 AM' timestamp='1291833210' post='236456']
Overstreet wrote:
: It's Children of Men all over again.

No it isn't, because many of the people who praised that film (including you) were not familiar with the book, at least not during the initial wave of praise.[/quote]

I didn't mean it's the same thing in every possible way . You might as well point out, "No, it isn't. The stories were written by different authors." All I can say is, "Well, duh."

But, insofar as we have contemporary storytellers taking the basic premise of a pre-existing (and widely read) text and putting a new spin on it, it continues the tradition of literary variation that ranges from restaging Shakespeare to A Muppet Christmas Carol.

And please don't bother to point out to me how Where The Wild Things Are isn't A Muppet Christmas Carol. I see the differences.

[quote]: 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.

I look forward to your positive reappraisal of Andrew Adamson's Narnia movies.
[/quote]

Come on. I didn't say all interpretations are created equal. Some are stronger than others. Obviously.

That this film has meant so much to so many, including myself, gives me no questions at all about its worth. There could be a completely different interpretation that stick to the book's bare-minimum details, and keeps it in territory suitable for 4-year-olds. But I think it would be difficult to make that into a good 90-plus-minute film. I'm sure somebody could do it. But I greatly admire the Jonze and Co. embellishments as a new thing.

[quote]: Especially if the author is involved and admires what's happening.

I look forward to your positive reappraisal of George Lucas's "special editions" of the Star Wars movies.
[/quote]

Again, I never said all author-approved spinoffs are inspired.

[quote]Surely you know as well as anyone that people change over time, and that a work of art is not its author, especially when the two have been separated by over four decades.

And in this case, the movie isn't even the author's work of art to begin with. Rather, it is a hipster Gen-Xer's appropriation of a work of art that he grew up with, and he has forced it to fit the narrative of a purportedly typical hipster Gen-Xer's life. And so, just as Adamson didn't film the Narnia books but filmed his "memory" of the books, Jonze has filmed not Sendak's book but something else instead. That might very well be good enough for Sendak, but that doesn't mean it has to be for the rest of us.
[/quote]

You say "forced it to fit the narrative of a Gen-Xer's life" and I say "found interesting interpretive resonance between a story from his own childhood and his adult experience of parent/child relations, child psychology, adult psychology, and the tensions inherent in growing up, being rebellious, being obedient, and working through a loss."

[quote]Ryan H. wrote:
: They sure are. But they better make something that's at least as strong as the original work.

Quite so. Although I have sometimes gotten a kick out of films that were weaker than the book but deliberately subverted themes in the book that I thought were questionable to begin with (e.g. I, Robot).[/quote]

Why must they make something as strong as the original work? Maybe somebody sees a present-day reconextualizing of "Richard the III" as worthwhile. In doing they, they may well be *narrowing* the original text for the sake of seeing current events through the story's lens. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth doing.

"The True Story of the Three Little Pigs", a popular illustrated storybook, leans toward adults by inviting us to see things from the wolf's point of view. Very tongue-in-cheek. It isn't timeless like the famous fable of The Three Little Pigs. But was it worth doing? In this case, definitely. It's a fantastic coffee table book of creative graphic design and playful imagination.

Is "Wicked" as great as The Wizard of Oz? Nope. Worth doing, even though it plays to adult sensibilities more than the original did? Absolutely. It's a whole new thing, and because it's well-made, it adds to our stock of worthwhile available imaginative experience.

All of this debate has just convinced me to include Where the Wild Things Are - the movie - on my list of great, unlikely Christmastime films, in an article and perhaps in an upcoming Kindlings Muse. Consider what happens when a child is declared king, and then consider the distinction of the particular child who is king, and consider the differing effects of his leadership on those who gather around him. We're inclined to need a king. We're inclined to believe that "a child will lead them." But what kind of child. And what is the relevance of a loving, longsuffering mother to this story?

Edited by Overstreet, 08 December 2010 - 01:53 PM.


#225 Peter T Chattaway

Peter T Chattaway

    He's fictional, but you can't have everything.

  • Member
  • 30,016 posts

Posted 08 December 2010 - 02:11 PM

Overstreet wrote:
: Come on. I didn't say all interpretations are created equal. Some are stronger than others. Obviously.

But there is a difference between being faithful to a book and being not-faithful. Obviously. And to say that a film is "reading between the lines" is to imply that the film is being faithful in a particularly attentive way. This is NOT the case here, however, since the whole "broken family" theme has been imposed on Sendak's book from the outside. There is nothing THERE between the lines in the original book, not where this theme is concerned.

If critics were merely saying "Spike Jonze has filmed what the book means to him, the same way Andrew Adamson filmed what the Narnia books mean to him," then I can't really object to that. (Though I can certainly point out that Sendak's book, unlike the fairy tales that Breillat has been playing with, is NOT in the public domain and won't be for some time, so the opportunity for alternative feature-length interpretations of this story is pretty much nil at this point.) But if critics are saying "Spike Jonze has teased out one of the book's secret meanings" -- and, moreover, if they are saying this as a way of fortifying their love for the film and dismissing the objections of those who point out that the film has imposed the broken-family theme onto a book that never had it -- well, then they're just plain wrong.

: That this film has meant so much to so many, including myself, gives me no questions at all about its worth.

Wow.

: You say "forced it to fit the narrative of a Gen-Xer's life" and I say "found interesting interpretive resonance between a story from his own childhood and his adult experience of parent/child relations, child psychology, adult psychology, and the tensions inherent in growing up, being rebellious, being obedient, and working through a loss."

Well, the book has nothing whatsoever to do with "working through a loss", but if you are conceding that Jonze has attached the book to something non-book -- and, indeed, allowed the book to become overwhelmed by this non-book element -- then I'll accept that concession.

: Why must they make something as strong as the original work?

... Because it's better than making something weaker? Especially if it's going to pass itself off as the authorized adaptation of the original work?

#226 Overstreet

Overstreet

    Sometimes, there's a man.

  • Member
  • 17,400 posts

Posted 08 December 2010 - 02:18 PM

This is NOT the case here, however, since the whole "broken family" theme has been imposed on Sendak's book from the outside. There is nothing THERE between the lines in the original book, not where this theme is concerned.


Key words being "between the lines."

There is no dad in the book. That is interesting.

The boy is feeling particularly rebellious and obstinate. That is interesting.

When the boy gets to the forest, he sets himself up as King, who can do whatever he wants. That is interesting.

When the boy comes back, there is no evidence of Dad. That is interesting.

I don't have to be a therapist to see an inviting storytelling possibility there... a striking absence that suggests an interpretation well worth exploring.

Intentional? Perhaps not. But when I first heard about the film's take on the story, it struck me as a brilliant opportunity to explore a very possibility that the space "between the lines" leaves quite available, in my opinion.

You say the book has "nothing whatsoever" to do with "working through a loss." I disagree. I think the original book is cryptic enough to leave many plausible and interesting possibilities open. Great art is mysterious, and that's why every great story, every parable of Christ, suggests so many differing - and so many worthwhile - interpretations. You can't prove that The Prodigal Son has one right interpretation, and that's good, because what the story includes, and what it doesn't include, suggest myriad worthwhile interpretations of the story. To me, the absence of Dad in Where the Wild Things Are is a significant enough detail to take into account in considering possible interpretations.

: That this film has meant so much to so many, including myself, gives me no questions at all about its worth.

Wow.


In that I've had so many rewarding conversations about what the film is about, and how it is about it, with so many admirers, I am glad the film exists, and I am grateful the filmmakers made it. It is a meaningful film, well-made in many ways. I think it's worth quite a bit.

Others coming along and saying, "They added things to the book" doesn't change that one bit. What they did with the book was make a new thing that I find very useful.

By contrast, what Adamson has done is subtract things that made the first Narnia books strong, and replace them with unremarkable, derivative, forgettable stuff and noise.

Edited by Overstreet, 08 December 2010 - 02:25 PM.


#227 SDG

SDG

    Catholic deflector shield

  • Moderator
  • 9,098 posts

Posted 08 December 2010 - 02:23 PM

: 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.

I look forward to your positive reappraisal of Andrew Adamson's Narnia movies.

Jeff did positively appraise Lion Witch Wardrobe. Don't remember how he appraised Prince Caspian. I gave both B-pluses. I'm inclined today to think I was too generous -- but not because of lack of fidelity to the books. I was all over that when they opened. I gave them B-pluses (especially Prince Caspian) precisely because I believe that "filmmakers are free to craft a film that was 'inspired by' a book as loosely or as faithfully as they like." How I feel about the film as a film is meaningfully distinct (not necessarily totally, but maningfully) from how I feel about it as an adaptation.

As an adaptation, Prince Caspian deserves a D at best. Even today, I don't think it deserves that rating as a movie.

I look forward to your positive reappraisal of George Lucas's "special editions" of the Star Wars movies.

Right, cuz, Jeff said "If it's good enough for the author, it should be good enough for everyone else," right? I think that's what he said.

: They sure are. But they better make something that's at least as strong as the original work.

That strikes me as an unreasonable standard. Some originals would defy any conceivable adaptation to be "at least as strong." Others are so dissimilar to any possible adaptation that meaningful comparisons are dodgy at best. I think it makes sense to say that the artist should have a valid reason for the departure that works in the new work. And of course if you don't like the adaptation you can always say "Why did the artist think this was better than that?" But the not-liking of the adapted work ought to be meaningfully distinct from not liking it as an adaptation.

: . . . What the filmmakers did here, however, was make a story of monsters, but then fill it with all the same modern values of a boring schoolboy story.

Which is another way of saying that sometimes life is like a boring schoolboy story, and no matter how far you retreat into fantasy you can't get away from it. The boring schoolboy reality follows you all the way in.

Edited by SDG, 08 December 2010 - 02:25 PM.


#228 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,146 posts

Posted 08 December 2010 - 02:41 PM

Thanks to everyone, by the way, who's thinking more about this a year later. I've also had the feeling ever since seeing this, that I could remember something Chesterton had written on the subject. Finally found it in his essay entitled Child Psychology and Nonsense, dated October 15, 1921 -

In this age of child-psychology nobody pays any attention to the actual psychology of the child. All that seems to matter is the psychology of the psychologist and the particular theory or train of thought that he is maintaining against another psychologist. Most of the art and literature now magnificently manufactured for children is not even honestly meant to please children. The artist would hardly condescend to make a baby laugh if nobody else laughed, or even listened. These things are not meant to please the child. At best they are meant to please the child-lover. At the worst they are experiments in scientific educational method. Beautiful, wise, and witty lyrics like those of Stevenson's "Child's Garden of Verses" will always remain as a pure lively fountain of pleasure--for grown up people. But the point of many of them is not only such that a child could not see it, it is such that a child ought not to be allowed to see it--

The child that is not clean and neat,
With lots of toys and things to eat,
He is a naughty child, I'm sure,
Or else his dear papa is poor.

No child ought to understand the appalling abyss of that after-thought. No child could understand, without being a snob or a social reformer or something hideous, the irony of that illusion to the inequalities and iniquities with which this wicked world has insulted the sacred dignity of fatherhood. The child who could really smile at that line would be capable of sitting down immediately to write a Gissing novel, and then hanging himself on the nursery bed-post.


Edited by Persiflage, 08 December 2010 - 02:58 PM.


#229 Overstreet

Overstreet

    Sometimes, there's a man.

  • Member
  • 17,400 posts

Posted 08 December 2010 - 02:57 PM

And if Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are was meant for small children, that quote would be relevant to this film. But from its marketing to its soundtrack to its casting, the film was presented as something other than a kid flick. It was marketed to older-than-kiddie audiences as what it is: A view of a childhood fractured by an absence, through the lens of a more adult perspective. As it is, it prods the conscience of its adult audiences by inspiring them to think about the influence of their words and actions on their children, even as it invites the many viewers who had childhoods that resemble Max's to journey through anger and grief to some semblance of peace.

#230 Thom Wade

Thom Wade

    Happy Go Lucky Meat Machine

  • Member
  • 2,949 posts

Posted 08 December 2010 - 03:02 PM

I suspect I am alone in this....but the more I read from Chesterton the less impressive I find him.

#231 Ryan H.

Ryan H.

    Riding the crest of a wave breaking just west of Hollywood

  • Member
  • 5,525 posts

Posted 08 December 2010 - 06:33 PM

"The True Story of the Three Little Pigs", a popular illustrated storybook, leans toward adults by inviting us to see things from the wolf's point of view. Very tongue-in-cheek. It isn't timeless like the famous fable of The Three Little Pigs. But was it worth doing? In this case, definitely. It's a fantastic coffee table book of creative graphic design and playful imagination.

Is "Wicked" as great as The Wizard of Oz? Nope. Worth doing, even though it plays to adult sensibilities more than the original did? Absolutely. It's a whole new thing, and because it's well-made, it adds to our stock of worthwhile available imaginative experience.

Well, I dunno. I don't think the world would be too much poorer without these works. But they are an unusual kind of adaptation; they exist not to tell independent stories so much as they try to subvert/converse with existing ones.

That strikes me as an unreasonable standard. Some originals would defy any conceivable adaptation to be "at least as strong."

Poor, hasty wording. I would never expect that an adaptation of Dante's DIVINE COMEDY would become a century-spanning masterpiece that is read for ages and ages. But it stands as reason to me that if you're going to adapt a beloved classic, you nevertheless better bring the goods. And I do think that Jonze/Eggers tried to bring the goods; WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is actually a pretty ambitious film with some interesting ideas. I just don't think it comes together very well at all, and thus makes a poor companion piece to a book that is pretty superb.

And of course if you don't like the adaptation you can always say "Why did the artist think this was better than that?" But the not-liking of the adapted work ought to be meaningfully distinct from not liking it as an adaptation.

Well, sure. I'm not complaining that "It's not like the book" as much as I'm complaining, "As it stands, WHERE THE WILD THING ARE doesn't do the best job of realizing its ambitions. Maybe if it had been more like the book in certain respects, it would have been better."

#232 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,146 posts

Posted 08 December 2010 - 09:51 PM

And if Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are was meant for small children, that quote would be relevant to this film. But from its marketing to its soundtrack to its casting, the film was presented as something other than a kid flick. It was marketed to older-than-kiddie audiences as what it is: A view of a childhood fractured by an absence, through the lens of a more adult perspective. As it is, it prods the conscience of its adult audiences by inspiring them to think about the influence of their words and actions on their children, even as it invites the many viewers who had childhoods that resemble Max's to journey through anger and grief to some semblance of peace.

Well, I gotta admit, if that's what it does for the adults who can sit through it, then I'm happy for them. I don't want to begrudge others finding something of that much value in a film simply because it made me personally make frequent use of the fast forward button.

Chesterton's point is that there's a big difference between a story motivated by child psychology and a story motivated by the old-fashioned desire to enchant a little child. The former is something only adults can appreciate, the latter is something both children and adults ought to appreciate. So, of course, this isn't to say there is no value in the former, which seems to be where this film sits.

#233 Tyler

Tyler

    (Credit Only)

  • Member
  • 6,319 posts

Posted 22 March 2012 - 12:57 PM



Overstreet posted this on Facebook. It might be better than the movie. And I liked the movie.

#234 Rachel Anne

Rachel Anne

    Member

  • Member
  • 683 posts

Posted 22 March 2012 - 03:48 PM

In my opinion, if you're going to give me a story of a child entering another enchanted world - keep your modern hand-wringing, disallusioned, regular old schoolboy story out of it - instead give me real monsters that are actually really scary, dangerous, and magical. Not just a psychological replacement for all the kids abandonment issues with school playground angst-monster substitutes.
...

Everyone here who did like (or love) this thing obviously isn't seeing any creeping corruption of fairy tales in the film, and that's a good thing. But after getting that impression from the film myself, I can't help but resent it.

Very late coming in here, I know, but isn't this exactly what the movie The Wizard of Oz does? It starts with source material that is magical (in the book, Oz is a real place that Dorothy really visits) and converts it into a dream in which the elements all map onto Dorothy's real life. ("...and you were there, and you were there ..." and so on.)

Also, in the original book Where the Wild Things Are, are you saying that you think that Max DOES visit another world with REAL monsters? I never read it as being anything other than Max imagining another world.

Edited by bowen, 22 March 2012 - 03:49 PM.


#235 Tyler

Tyler

    (Credit Only)

  • Member
  • 6,319 posts

Posted 08 May 2012 - 08:49 AM

Maurice Sendak has died.

#236 Tyler

Tyler

    (Credit Only)

  • Member
  • 6,319 posts

Posted 17 September 2013 - 08:40 AM

From the Epic Parenting page on Facebook.

 

554558_165048113700193_319914182_n.jpg