At The Movies 10.16.09
This is Ron Salfen, “At The
Movies,” and here’s my commentary on a film opening today at The
Majestic Theater in
“Where the Wild Things Are” is a strange movie.
It’s much darker than you would expect for a children’s tale.
The characters are not only not always nice, sometimes they’re
randomly mean, violent, and destructive.
The little boy at the center of the story, Max (Max Records) is
lonely, controlling, and capricious.
And the giants who inhabit the world of his imagination are neither
gentle nor helpful. And
they’re ugly. So all this
offbeat uncomfortableness is supposed to be endearing?
The narrative begins in a normal-looking American household:
busy, well-meaning, overwrought, preoccupied single Mom (Catherine
Keener), pubescent girl more interested in being with her friends than her
family, and a little boy for whom nobody seems to have enough time.
Predictably, he develops an active fantasy life.
When Mom brings her work home, because she’s feeling pressured,
and then flirts with the boyfriend in the living room while the dinner’s
cooking in the kitchen, Max just kind of snaps from the lack of attention.
His mother, mortified at his “acting out,” trying desperately
to impress the boyfriend, orders Max to his room, and instead, Max runs
outside: down the street,
through the chain-link fence, through the thick undergrowth, and to the
shore, where he hops into a convenient sailboat and takes off into the
moonlight. A day and a night
later (we never have to worry about food, or inconveniences like
overexposure), he lands on a rocky island where he sees lights at the top,
and begins climbing up the steep cliff (in his Halloween costume, no
Now he meets the bizarre inhabitants of this thick-forested
netherworld, conveyed by an unusual combination of computer graphics,
muppetry, and voiceovers. They’re
big, dumb, emotionally immature, and easily influenced.
Max, being small, ambitious, self-confident, and wanting
desperately to be in a position of authority or control, becomes their
king. At first, it’s a lot
of fun---spontaneously suggest games they could play, plan to build a
“fort” together, even assign the tasks in the big construction
project. But somewhere in the
middle of all that work, it stops being fun, and the subjects start
grumbling, and Max realizes that, like all petty despots before him, he
only rules with the consent of the governed.
And he can’t make them like each other, nor can he make them
respect him or appreciate his leadership.
(Anybody who wants to make analogies to preachers and
congregations, or politicians and constituencies, feel free to do so.)
Eventually, Max has to retract his previous assurances that he had
some sort of magic power (which is why most savvy leaders assume office by
instead attempting to lower others’ expectations).
In the midst of all the bickering and disappointments, it becomes
clear that it’s time for Max to leave, and his little sailboat is
miraculously intact, and off he goes---back to a loving mother who was
patiently waiting for him to return, but hadn’t yet called the police?
Well, I guess if it’s a fantasy, you can arrange it any way you
want. It’s just an odd duck
of a fairy tale.
This is Ron Salfen, “At The
Movies,” for 93-5 KICK-FM