By Gia Vangieri
What is the first order of business? To quote both the book and the movie, “Let the wild rumpus start!” Director Spike Jonze does just that as we follow Max (played by Max Records) as he plummets into the depths of an uncharted vernal imagination. Max finds his psyche fractioned off and manifested in loveable and dangerous “Wild Things” and becomes their king. It must be noted as word of warning, this PG-rated movie is about a child, but not necessarily for children.
Max runs, tumbles, and sets the screen on fire with a face laden with an inexplicable child instinct—an image caught by verité cinematographer, Lance Acord, whose agile lens chases the young star though the film’s Australian landscape. Breath-taking visuals (only part of which are CGI) are accompanied by the sounds of whirring organs, shouting children, and whimsical percussion, a contribution of stark genius by Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and Carter Burwell, film scorer extraordinaire.
While the “Wild Things” will be familiar from the imagery presented in the original children’s book by Maurice Sendak, the plot (adapted by Jonze and Dave Eggers) is strikingly more Freudian. In the book, Max is sent to bed without supper where he dreams up the land of the Wild Things to cure his boredom. The movie exposes Max as the attention-seeking son of a single mother and teenage older sister whose friends trample Max’s igloo. When Max’s mom (Catherine Keener) ignores his calls for her because she is entertaining a male guest (Mark Ruffalo), Max throws a tantrum and runs away, through the woods, and sails on an abandoned boat to where the Wild Things are, a precariously violent place of love where Max runs, plays and rules over the Wild Things as they unleash howls redolent of Walt Whitman.
Even in this dream-land where Max can be king, the Wild Things are quick to recognize he is not magical, can’t protect them from sorrow with his “sorrow-blocking shield,” and is insufficient to rule. Each of the large feathered, clawed, furry, and dirty monsters is characterized with aspects of the personalities of Max and his loved ones. Disappearing KW (Lauren Ambrose) represents his sister; his own feelings of rage, abandonment, vulnerability and love appear in Carol (James Gandolfini); the voice of his mom is echoed in Judith (Catherine O'Hara); and Max’s insecurity and loneliness are divided among Ira (Forest Whitaker), Alexander (Paul Dano), and Douglas (Chris Cooper). In a land as unruly as the child dreaming it up, Max learns to embrace even the most turbulent parts of himself, telling the Wild Things “I’m just Max” before sailing home. KW lets him know “I’d eat you up, I love you so,” Carol howls, and with that, he returns home.
The version of the film Jonze screened when it was first shot and edited in 2006 showed Max as bratty and the monsters as terrifying; children in the audience actually started screaming and crying. He made changes for the 2009 wide release which portray Max as being beautiful but troubled and the monsters as out of control but lovable. This 2009 release captures the very essence of what it is to be a child. As the previews promised, and as the movie beats on the heart like a drum: “There is something wild in all of us.”
Gia Vangieri is a Junior BU English Major.