Friday night, Emily and I went to see Where the Wild Things Are, the Spike Jonze film loosely based on Maurice Sendak’s classic book about a disobedient boy named Max, who is sent to bed without supper and imagines sailing away to the land of Wild Things,where he is made king.
Going into the movie, I didn’t really have any expectations, beyond having a good time. After all, the book is roughly ten sentences. If you’re going to make a 100-minute film from it, you’re going to have to expand; more accurately, you’ll need to create your own story around the basic framework of the original.
There are parts of the movie that were excellent.The character designers did a great job bringing the Wild Things to life and should be commended. Likewise, all the actors did a brilliant job in the portrayal of their characters. But, as we watched the movie, I felt… unsettled.
Emily described the movie as having an “undercurrent of creepy” running through it.
Identifying The Undercurrent of Creepy
Something felt off. Perhaps it was characterization. Max, the emotionally out-of-control son of a divorced mom, flips out when Mom’s got a date in the house and takes off. This reminded me a bit of my childhood as the emotionally out-of-control son of a divorced mom. While his actions certainly aren’t glorified, I’m amazed at the seeming lack of consequence for behaving like an insufferable brat.
After some further reflection, I think my discomfort centers around Carol, the emotionally out-of-control Wild Thing who is a personification of Max’s own issues. He smashes the group’s homes because everything isn’t perfect and how it “should” be. He looks to people to solve all the problems in life; that Max, as king, will make everyone happy.
In the characterization of Carol, Spike Jonze exposes our potential for idolatry.
A Problem, but No Solution
Carol “needs” to turn people into his functional savior, whether it’s K.W. or a king. And when they fail under the enormous amount of pressure he places on them, he blames them, attacks them and tries to destroy them.
We do this all the time, whether it’s in marriage and dating relationships, parenting, friendships, work, and celebrity culture. We build up our expectations of a man or woman, a boss, our kids, an actor, whatever, and when they inevitably buckle under the enormous pressure… You get the idea.
We all have the propensity to be “Carol” in this way.
While the movie brings this reality to light, it feels rather hopeless. Perhaps that’s intentional; I’ll be honest, I’m not really certain of the motivations of the screenwriters and director. And perhaps, this weakness might be its strength.
While I didn’t find the movie a satisfying experience, it did provide an opportunity to remind myself that there is a solution to our potential for idolatry. That there is hope because of the gospel.
And that is truly satisfying.