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Published: HarperCollins Publishers - December 26th, 2012
Contest winner: “My Favorite Movie Based On A Book I Love”, February 2012
Where The Wild Things Are
By Stephen Bascom
Pajamas with stocking feet, pointy ears and claws. Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are is a warm-blooded ode to the risks and mischief of boyhood. I love its illustrations, its sparse words, the hint of danger lurking in the upturned corners of its monster-sized grins. A different beast altogether, Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are is filled with other details: a barking dog on a staircase, a slamming door, a mouthful of snow. But at its core is a little boy named Max, still filled with a bitter drive to explore and exist. Both the movie and the book are wild things at heart.
The Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella once said that when filming adaptations, his job was to “flip the screen over” so that the audience could see the book he was reading in his mind. Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers took an entirely different approach to Where the Wild Things Are—but it was a daring, imaginative approach, as vivid and unpredictable as Max himself.
Rather than reproducing the book, the filmmakers drew from their own experiences to enhance themes implied by Sendak’s original. Dave Eggers wrote a screenplay bursting with compassion for downtrodden youth—Eggers raised his younger brother after their parents died of cancer—and director Spike Jonze added his staunch independence and penchant for subtext. Suddenly the “wild things” of the book were transformed from anonymous compatriots through the forest into magnificent foils and stand-ins for people in Max’s everyday life. We sense that one wild thing is really Max’s father, another one his mother, and they are clearly divorced. Lines like “I’ll eat you up I love you so” take on new meaning because Max’s mother’s love sustains him even as her failed marriage threatens to devour him whole.
And still there are those details, made more poignant by the context of a boy grieving his parents’ separation. A pile of sharp sticks. A gold crown. A heartbreaking howl at the sky—which could have been filled with such joy, if only, if only.
I love this movie. It is fierce, evocative, and takes enormous risks. It reminds me of the boy I was, how I felt when my parents divorced. It reminds me of the person I am, still faced with a world too big to take in, still angry in the shadow of problems I cannot solve, still crippled by love and longing for a marvelous adventure.
Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are earned Maurice Sendak’s endorsement. “He’s turned it into his without giving up mine,” the author said, and he was right. Now that both versions are ours, it is a comfort to know that after a treacherous journey through a book, a movie, or in life, there will still be a bowl of supper waiting on the bedside table.
Brown, Lane. Maurice Sendack Swears Wild Things Movie Will Be Okay. Vulture.com. 28 July 2009. 17 February 2012. <http://www.vulture.com/2009/07/maurice_sendack_swears_wild_thi.html>
Words and Music of Cold Mountain. Perf. Anthony Minghella. Miramaz. 2003. Film.