Brandon's Word: Where the Wild Things Are is a Profound Adventure
by Brandon Lee Tenney
October 15, 2009
This film, Where the Wild Things Are, directed and co-written by auteur Spike Jonze, based on the seminal children's book authored by Maurice Sendak, is not for you. Rather, its very existence and purpose is meant not for you as you are now, today. Its themes and breathtaking visuals and deep, inky explorations aren't for you, the twenty/thirty/forty-year-old. Where the Wild Things Are is, instead, for the angst-filled, confused, whimsical nine/ten/eleven/twelve-year-old inside us all. For the part of us that feels directionless. For the part of us that is without. That's yearning, learning. That's wayward and possibly even hopeless.
The nagging scab that feels like a failure. And the unbridled, inexplicable joy. The itch that knows not what to say. And the unabashed tongue that knows not when to stop. Where the Wild Things Are is a buoy for that person, those feelings. It's that person that you'll become as the first frame flickers to life, vital and dynamic, on screen. Where the Wild Things Are is transportive. It's revelatory and addled, eloquent and obtuse, a singular vision of expression and a dichotomy of emotion--a heart triple its regular size beating irregularly at quadruple its accustomed pace. And perhaps one of the most personal, beautiful, complex films I've seen on screen.
But before I continue this exploration of Where the Wild Things Are, I'd like to discuss The Lost Generation, of which I will make reference. A term first coined by Gertrude Stein and popularized by Ernest Hemingway used to characterize a general sense of disillusionment has found itself re-appropriated for the twenty-first century as a descriptor of members of Generation Y, usually affluent, well-educated twenty/thirty-somethings, who've found themselves displaced and disproportionately effected by the current economic downturn.
I, like many of you I'm sure, am a member of this Lost Generation. Not for a lack of trying, I've suffered a long period of unemployment without any prospects or options. I've lived off credit, and I've seen my college diploma collect dust atop its scowl of disapproval and shame. I've felt lost and like a failure, knowing not what or where or how my next step should be. And even though I'm not--by any stretch--alone in this, it's loneliness that I feel. A loneliness--or, maybe more pertinently, a forlornness--that Where the Wild Things Are taps into and lets bubble, flow, and spill throughout the theatre. So, while the film is able to latch 'hold of the child inside us all, Where the Wild Things Are speaks to The Lost Generation in a way that is perhaps even more profound.
And the language in which it speaks is provocative. Wild Things is deep, galvanizing introspection and reflection on screen with each scene. Much of the film--maybe most of the film--sits beneath even the bedrock at the bottom of the sea it traverses. It's written sparsely, but with weight, capturing and distilling a child's pure emotion into anthropomorphized characters. That child, Max (played stunningly by Max Records), is presented as ragingly complex and confused and lost in a way that is immediately familiar, yet wholly unique. The tug of war between the life he knew and loved fading into the strange and discontented. With all of this in opposition to his expectations. The whirlwind of emotion is enough to cause him to hide in his imagination, where only the things he wants to happen will happen. So he runs there, literally and metaphorically. And it's there that the Wild Things are. Embodiments of his turbulent affections. His greatest strength and greatest fear both.
If there's one, glaring fault in Where the Wild Things Are, it's its pacing -- especially the film's rushed beginning. Though the film establishes Max, his mother, and subtly--but affectively--elucidates the familial turmoil Max is undergoing, Wild Things is unabashed in its desire to get you to the world of the Wild Things as quickly as possible. The events and motivations for Max's departure from his normal life do not reach enough of a fever pitch to warrant such a departure. Max's goading of his mother (played by Catherine Keener in a beautifully understated performance), the involvement of her boyfriend (played by Mark Ruffalo), and what could have been a more cataclysmic showdown at the dinner table would have intensified the situation to a believable degree where his mental and physical escape would have been warranted. Though, upon the first glimpse of the Wild Things, it's difficult to remember that quibble and easier to understand just why Spike Jonze wanted us there as soon as possible.
The sheer technical prowess of this film is something to behold. The Jim Henson Company's life-size monsters paired with the supremely expressive digitized, computer generated faces of the Wild Things is astonishing. Their eyes alone are utterly captivating. Voiced by the likes of James Gandolfini, Forest Whitaker, Catherine O'Hara, Paul Dano, and Chris Cooper, the Wild Things steal this film. Akin to Guillermo del Toro's proclivity to utilize as many practical effects and characters as possible in order to retain the maximum amount of believability on screen, Jonze's decision to use real, actual puppets able to interact with Max and the environment allows Where the Wild Things Are to establish a connection and subconscious trust with the audience without ever having to do any more than merely photograph the scene with them as a part. Spike Jonze's photography ranges from melancholic to whimsical with ease and without issue. It's a beautifully looking film. Each frame purposeful and revealing. Capturing every tone, each emotion with earnest.
But all of this would never have even stood in front of a lens without Spike Jonze's and Dave Egger's script. The naiveté and immaturity and childishness of the Wild Things is never hackneyed. Max is never annoying, but is always very much a kid who acts, feels like, and experiences his surroundings like a kid. The film reaches goose skin-inducing highs and bleary-eyed lows so adeptly and with such control that the subtle, inner turmoil that's established early on is able to be expounded upon and engorged without the film ever crumpling under its own weight. A weight that is quite considerable, mind you. Examining a young boy's discovery of self-agency, his raging, uncontrollable emotions, his yearning for control and the realization that impossibility to please everyone is absolute. Displaying the very facets of his emotions as embodiments -- as the Wild Things. Anger and love and logic and confusion and fear and cowardice. It's wonderful.
Though, all of the above is moot when asked if Where the Wild Things Are is relatable to kids. There are a couple terrifying moments that are reminiscent of the children's films of yesteryear, but, for the most part, it's simply the film's introspective, esoteric nature that leads me to believe that it's a film that will be lost on kids, though one that could lead to a very rewarding discussion filled with plenty of questions with one's son or daughter. But, as I expressed earlier, Wild Things is neither for kids nor adults, but the intersection of both. It demands reflection on experiences long passed and emotions ably recalled. For this reason, above all, it's an anthem for The Lost Generation. An extraction and condensation of the frustration of being out of control of one's future.
In the film, KW, one of the Wild Things, confesses to Max: "It's hard being a family." Packed into that simple sentence is the entirety of Where the Wild Things Are and every emotion evoked from it. Because even though it is hard being a family or part of a society on board what seems to be a rudderless ship or just being a person who's lost for the moment and overcome by some wild thing of their own, it's realizing that not knowing is always the first step to finding out. And it's Where the Wild Things Are now, this new Spike Jonze version, that's able to throw golden hour's light brightly, hopefully, brilliantly upon just that.
is this one of those dont love but respect type of films?
nelson on Oct 15, 2009
#1 - It's so personal and relies so heavily on one's own experiences that I fully expect there to be a wide array of reactions on both sides; however, it's definitely one to see for yourself so that you alone can decide.
Brandon Lee Tenney on Oct 15, 2009
can't see it but I totally am beeming a giant smile after reading your article!
Xerxex on Oct 15, 2009
Brandon Lee Tenney, worst written article ever. Stop. Writing. Like. This.
I_Write_Better_Than_Brandon on Oct 15, 2009
from the reviews and what people have said i know 1 thing for sure it is being marketed very wrong
nelson on Oct 15, 2009
Movie sucked. Don't see it.
whomever on Oct 15, 2009
Loved it. I think most people who were disappointed went in with too much hype combined with the wrong expectations. If you go in expecting the typical fantasy/adventure formula, you're bound to be disappointed. It's a far more wholesome experience than that.
Dark Fist on Oct 15, 2009
WOW........Thats a damn good review man.....i felt as if i sorta saw the movie just by reading it. I can really tell that the movie really moved you and it shows in this....I pretty much wanna watch this opening night now.......
Castro on Oct 15, 2009
I'm not sure I want to see it. My TV has been shoving the trailer in my face so many times I can't stand it anymore. If I hear that song again I'm going to punch a baby.
Sabes on Oct 15, 2009
Profound my ass.
jfskajk on Oct 15, 2009
I still wanna see it. Maybe some time when I am on my period and semi-emo anyways. Then I can really bawl my eyes out when Max leaves the Wild Things. =P P.S.: I am so disappointed in you, Sabes... </3
SuicidalOptimist on Oct 15, 2009
"Wild Things is neither for kids nor adults, but the intersection of both." I'm in the intersection, so I'm there no matter what, and I agree this is not for kids today, its for those who are well into their lives. Sabes! what happened to ya!?
Xerxex on Oct 15, 2009
Hush up #8, you know you still <3 me. Don't deny.
Sabes on Oct 15, 2009
Then its up to us Nethanel DeCarmo, to make this delightful film break out!
Xerxex on Oct 15, 2009
Really liked the beginning of your review, getting into how and why this affected you so much. I've only read the script and not seen the movie so I have a good guess as to the pacing issues you mentioned in the beginning. The script actually takes way too long to get going, and we're hit over the head with the same hammer over and over again: Max's family life sucks. So my guess is the studio notes were: Get to the Wild Things faster dammit.
Script Shadow on Oct 15, 2009
Carson/Script Shadow -- I'm very interested to read the script now (after reading your review). Since it's co-written by Jonze (the director making notes for himself in the script itself for what to focus on, as you wrote) and a novelist, I can see how its descriptions and internal minutia would run wild -- at least more detailed than should be attempted by a younger screenwriter writing their first spec. Though, after seeing it, I'm excited to read all of that. And thank you. I feel like everyone will have their own story about how and why WTWTA affected them. I love it for that (maybe) most of all.
Brandon Lee Tenney on Oct 16, 2009
i loved it but thats just my opinion. as brandon said above me,everyone has there own feelings on how and why it affected them and to me,growing up loving the book,and now being 20 i was able to feel like a kid and also love that it was sort of aimed towards my age range and people who are older. it was visually beautiful and to me it is one of the most impacting movies i've seen in a long time.
Erik keating on Oct 16, 2009
just saw it tonight and i really enjoyed it. But I don't see how people are saying its being marked wrong, when ever i saw the trailers i thought "I'm going into a movie that is going to be completely different from other movies, neither good nor bad, but completely different" and that's exactly how it was. I can see how people would not like the movie, and i can see how people would adore the movie. but In my best opinion i can say its a new generations Never Ending Story. And today's group of kids are going to turn this movie into a timeless classic.
DoomCanoe on Oct 16, 2009
i plan to see the movie,it'll no doubt be an adventure this review on this other hand,is atrocious on so many levels. CAN WE GET A GODDAMN EDITOR IN HERE
evan on Oct 16, 2009
@#20 I completely agree. This is one of those narcissistic critics who loves to hear himself speak, and probably surrounds himself with people who tell him he's a great writer.
Jenny on Oct 16, 2009
Yeah no kidding. I've read a few of his reviews, and they're all very masturbatory. It's a shame when a potentially decent publication is smothered by the ego of the writer.
Geo on Oct 16, 2009
There's always another viewpoint. I loved your writing of this review, especially because it seemed like you put a lot of thought into the words that you used to describe the film.
Rose on Oct 16, 2009
Thought, yes. Editing, no.
Geo on Oct 16, 2009
If a movie touches you deep down in ANY way and you can actually describe that in words... I'm amazed. Being at a low point of indecision in my life... your words helped and I can't wait to see the movie. It's a part of my life & my children's. You are a marvelous writer!
Barbara on Oct 16, 2009
From my personal experience editors are the egotistical ones. Keep it up Brandon.
Nick Papa on Oct 16, 2009
Hm. Blunt honesty can be harsh lol ohh internet. But there really is truth to it, they're all pretty cluttered reviews. There def is a reason all good writers have someone edit their work. Anyway I can't wait to see the movie because I saw an HBO doc on Maurice Sendak, filmed over 10 years by Spike Jonze. Sendak believes children have incredible depth, and that parents who shield their kids from the real world are doing them an incredible disservice. I think that's why his stories are much darker (and richer) than other fluffy children's books.
Kim on Oct 16, 2009
Never planned to see it in theaters and people that do must have some money to burn. It's decent if not great I'm sure but I cannot fathom spending $20 to see this. If I had kids, sure, but even then I'd wait 'cause it's even more! They can wait for Blu-Ray and watch it on my big TV along with many many more movies that Netflix allows me to see over and over and over again!
Tra la la la la di da on Oct 16, 2009
A profoundly touching review of a profoundly touching movie. This is going to be a completely polarizing movie and those who love it with a passion will butt heads with those who hate it with equal or more passion. That can't be helped. Neither side will ever see it the other side's way. You'd have more luck getting Nancy Pelosi to draft a pro-life bill. You touched on some dangerous stuff, Brandon, how your Generation has been culturally jettisoned and I certainly agree with you on that point. I happen to come from the one prior to you, the one marketed as "X" and as lost and floundering as we were, you guys had/have it much worse. We "Xers" were considered charming, pithy, and, best of all, an easy demographic. You guys? Squirrelly, shifty, unreliably bleak... as inheritors of this world, we're not sure what to make of you because (GASP) we wrought you. You took our angst and out-angsted us. Thankfully, a bright spot... you now have a signature movie, a glimmering piece of art that represents all you FEEL. This is rare. And it's a small good thing. Great review Brandon, thanks so much for it.
Jeff on Oct 16, 2009
Props to the people who are being honest. Thumbs down to the people who let pity get the best of them. No sense in coddling a critic - if they can dish it out, they should know how to take it, too.
Adrienne on Oct 16, 2009
Brandon, ignore these negative comments (as I am sure is pointless to say cause I know you probably already have) because you are a fantastic reviewer. You look beneath the surface of films, and interpret what the artist is really trying to say with their films. Your examinations of movies are deep, and complex which angers the average, straight thinking viewer but please don`t stop reviewing. In fact I highly much enjoy your thoughts, and your opinion of where the wild things are is awesome and striking. Can`t wait to see it, thank you for letting loose your true assumptions despite what others may think 😉
buddhistwisdom777 on Oct 17, 2009
I dunno, I think everyone's opinion is valid. It's not good to reject any feedback as "negative," even if people aren't saying them in the nicest of ways - don't reject the message because of it's delivery. If enough people are saying something, it's worth considering, thats all I'm saying.
Adrienne on Oct 17, 2009
And, before I tire of this point and quit talking about it, truth and criticism are the only ways to grow (especially in a creative field). So rejecting feedback just because it hurts to hear it, means you choose complacency over growth. I'm not saying this critic has confirmed or rejected these comments, I'm just saying in general. Of course some people think this guy writes well, otherwise he wouldn't be on this site. But there is ALWAYS room for growth. Always. Now I'm done. Thx for listening
Adrienne on Oct 17, 2009
Adrienne, you've posted a few times now. But it's with this last comment that you've really caught my attention. First, thanks for pointing out that I've neither publicly accepted nor rejected the comments above. Second, I completely agree with you! Truth, criticism of all types (though constructive criticism is most helpful), and choosing to analyze exactly what and why that criticism is being brought up is the only way to grow. That's why I appreciate yours and the other comments on every one of my reviews/articles/editorials. And, of course, every taste isn't going to be palatable to every person. So, in short, thanks for reading, and thank you for commenting. For the record: I never ignore/reject any criticism. Though, I will often ignore/reject how that criticism is presented. There's no excuse for a lack of civility and respect. The anonymity of the Internet is, especially, no excuse. But it is the nature of the beast. Again, thank you, and I appreciate your eyes on my words -- no matter if you feel like you need a medical eyewash afterward or not!
Brandon Lee Tenney on Oct 17, 2009
Well, whatever works. I think anyone who cares enough to voice frustration means they want to instigate change. If people didn't care, they'd criticize it in their heads and just close the window. It's frustrating to me when readers try to dismiss each other's commentaries, and come to the rescue out of disagreement or pity or the like. Especially when the criticism is about another person's criticism, i.e. the writing of these articles. I'm an artist who gives a lot of feedback to other artists, which means I have the balls to be honest and the internal stamina to also receive blunt honesty. Anyone who babies another person into dismissing unpopular feedback is doing them (to quote Kim, above) "an incredible disservice."
Adrienne on Oct 18, 2009
I have not seen this yet but I am waiting with a pounding heart to do so this weekend. Reading your article not only makes me want to see this more, but reading it, much like just watching the trailer - has left me in tears. I believe my spirit intuitively awaits this movie as much as I do. I can't wait.
Akohut on Oct 20, 2009
lol relax man
Geo on Oct 20, 2009
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