I hate to do this again, but I have to wonder once more why so many critics, especially in Montreal, seem to think of movies only in literary or theatrical terms. All they can focus on is storytelling, dialogue and themes, as if they were reviewing a book, or actors’ performances, as if they were criticizing a play. Show them a film that’s pure cinema, i.e. awesome images, great use of sound and clever editing, and they’re lost. If on top of that it deals in fantasy, forget it! Listening to these guys, it seems like a flick about a kid who hangs out on an island with a bunch of big furry creatures just isn’t worth their time. Their loss, I guess.
Now, if you’re reading me, I assume that it’s because you actually love movies, not just as intellectual constructs, but also as visual experiences that allow you to dream with your eyes wide open and that are able to transport you into another world. Spike Jonze‘s adaptation of Maurice Sendak‘s classic “Where the Wild Things Are” is literally like that.
Max (Max Records) is a boy who lives with his single parent mother (Catherine Keener) and an older sister (Pepita Emmerichs) who doesn’t have a lot of time for him anymore. Feeling lonely and ignored and sad and angry, Max acts out, by being loud and rough and kicking up a storm, but also by making up all kinds of stories, playing make-believe and inventing adventures for himself.
Right there, if you’re not hopelessly thick, you can tell that “Where the Wild Things Are” is indeed about something deep and real and “important”, even if this isn’t another friggin’ Holocaust film or a story about miserable aging spouses cheating on each other. It’s about boundless imagination as a coping device, something all kids know about, as do the best artists, Spike Jonze included (obviously).
When Max sails away to the Wild Things’ island, convinces them not to eat him then quickly becomes their king, it’s either the actualization of everything he’s been longing for or maybe all in his head. Does it make sense? Not in a grown-up way, but in kid logic terms, it’s perfectly plausible. Some might complain that nothing really happens during Max’s adventure, the monsters and him not doing much more than destroying stuff, throwing themselves at each other, building forts and playing war. But if you’ve ever seen a boy in action or been one yourself, you should know that this is exactly what one would do!
I don’t know, man, all I can say is that I had watery eyes through the whole thing, I laughed, I was thrilled… On a purely sensory level, I also loved Lance Acord‘s magic hour cinematography, Karen O and Carter Burwell‘s equally urgent and sentimental score, and the way Spike Jonze manages to keep his film both naturalistic and lyrical. And then there are the Wild Things, of course, which I couldn’t get enough of. Created with a mix of animatronics done by the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop and CGI, they are cuddly yet dangerous, impulsive creatures and, most importantly, they have a lot of personality. I honestly cared more for these guys than for the vast majority of the human characters in all the other films I’ve seen this year.
I truly hope I never turn into the kind of person who isn’t able to enjoy a movie like this.