Spike Jonze has found the elixir of eternal youth. And no, it’s not botox, nor does it require drinking from a spring. Instead, it is never forgetting what it is like to be a child. This may not sound like much on paper, but if you go see “Where the Wild Things Are,” Jonze will share this secret with you. All you have to do is sit back and absorb it all in.
“Where the Wild Things Are” is the brainchild of Dave Eggers, wacky author, and Spike Jonze, music video and movie director extraordinaire. Eggers, who wrote both the script and a novel form of this classic children’s story, managed to transform a ten line story into a fantastical and moving hour and forty minute film. Some might claim nothing actually happens in the film — the story just marches on without any resolution. But, any fan of Maurice Sendak, author of the original book, would know this is just how Sendak would want it. The original book lacks a coherent plot– it’s a little bit lost and purposeless but still chugging on, just like most nine year old kids.
Max (Max Records) is the poster-boy for angry adolescents struggling to find their place in the modern American family. Feeling left out and forgotten by his mother and sister he throws a tantrum and runs away, traveling to a far off island in his imagination full of monsters (wild things) where he hopes only the things he wants to happen will. Like reality, the world of his imagination is dark, full of brooding, self-absorbed monsters trying to find happiness. But through his adventures, he learns more about humans from monsters than any human could ever teach him.
The scenery and costume choices are almost flawless. Jonze succeeds in creating the landscape of the book and in giving a distinct personality to the ‘wild things,’ who wear suits created by Jim Henson’s creature shop. The final product is monsters with individuality portraying true human emotions. I found myself empathizing more with each monster than I have collectively for the characters of many other films.
Most of the film was shot with a handheld camera, creating a realistic and dramatic sense of joy. Even Maurice Sendak exclaimed, “I’ve never seen a movie that looked or felt like this.”
When “Where the Wild Things Are” appears more like art than film, it shines. The film is best when it is simple and quiet, such as the moments when trees obscure the sun creating a luster in Max’s eyes. Pair that with Karen O softly cooing in the background and you have the perfect moment of peace amidst all the craziness. For all of the film’s fighting, yelling and tantrum throwing, it’s really about acceptance and the subsequent happiness it causes.
We all know is Jonze is mad genius and hipster god — the long list of hip ex-girlfriends and crazy music videos he has directed attest to that. Then again, some of his cinematic moments border on the absurd. We should therefore take the bizarreness of “Where the Wild Things Are” at face value. Childhood is absurd — most of the time you don’t really understand what is happening, and the only way to combat this helplessness is to dream of far off places and crazy ideas. Analyzing each absurd element as a symbol for something much greater would strip this film of its joy.
It is easy to write off this film as hipster nonsense. And perhaps hipsters are children that never grew up (they’re also monsters). Even if the screenings of this film look like the hipster Mecca, this is still a film for every human and the monsters that love them (or maybe the hipster deep in your heart, you know it’s there). So go drink this film up, grow young, and in the process, you will probably take a primal scream for joy.