Saturday, October 31, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

There's a particularly great scene in Where the Wild Things Are when Max and Judith, the most disagreeable and distrusting of the Wild Things, get into an argument over whether he plays favorites. It quickly devolves into something else:

I can see how it is, the king has favorites. It's really cute. Do you have a favorite color? Can I be your favorite color? Heh heh heh...

Max (sneering):
Heh heh heh.

Judith (also sneering):
Heh heh heh.

They exchange a few rounds of mocking and increasingly loud and obnoxious laughter. It stops after Max leans in and shouts as loud as he can. There's a brief pause.

You know what? You can't do that back to me. If we're upset, your job is not to get upset back at us. Our job is to be upset. If I get mad and want to eat you, then you have to say 'Oh, okay. You can eat me, I love you. Whatever makes you happy, Judith.' That's what you're supposed to do!

Max stares, dumbfounded, for a few seconds. The Wild Things are composites, condensed figures in the Freudian sense - they are, variously, analogies for Max's parents, his sister, and himself. And depending on which position they enact at any particular moment - and there are reversals aplenty - they also force Max into their opposite and show him to be equally variable. If Judith becomes Max, then Max becomes his own mother.

It's easy to take away a message akin to 'childhood is hard and then you grow up', or to suggest that the film has something to say about the process of childhood, the difficulty of growing up and letting go, or childhood's end. The Wild Things show anything but linear growth: they go sideways, back and forth, up and down, and in circles. And Max's character-arc isn't exactly unambiguous, either. (Perhaps it's less ambiguous than in the book, where it's not clear that Max learns anything. Or that there's a lesson to be learned.)

1 comment:

unpack said...

awesome post.
you have the chance to be one of the best fathers.

:P hee hee