Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

  • Time: 101 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Drama | Family
  • Director: Spike Jonze
  • Cast: Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker


A young boy named Max has an active imagination, and he will throw fits if others don’t go along with what he wants. Max – following an incident with Claire (his sister) and her friends, and following a tantrum which he throws as a result of his Mother paying more attention to her boyfriend than to him – runs away from home. Wearing his wolf costume at the time, Max not only runs away physically, but runs toward a world in his imagination. This world, an ocean away, is inhabited by large wild beasts, including one named Carol who is much like Max himself in temperament. Instead of eating Max like they normally would with creatures of his type, the wild things befriend Max after he proclaims himself a king who can magically solve all their problems.

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  • I was frustrated when Singapore’s cinema chain, Golden Village (GV), decided not to screen Spike Jonze’s latest picture. The reason they gave was that the film would not be able to recoup its losses because it lacked mass appeal.

    Wait a minute, how can a film adapted from a popular children’s book, and featuring huge, lovable furry creatures lack mass appeal? Besides the film is critically-acclaimed and is directed by one of Hollywood’s most creative filmmakers. By opting not to screen it, GV has made a bad mistake. And this is not their first time.

    Where the Wild Things Are follows Max (Max Records) as he discovers a new world inhabited by creatures he (and we) have never seen before. Bookended by two sequences set in the neighborhood of Max which are essential in developing his character, Jonze’s film spends most of its runtime in the “fantasy” world.

    To draw parallels with both worlds, it is important to first understand Max’s situation. Max is a lonely pre-teen who has a wild imagination and enjoys constructing things. He has a frustrating relationship with his mother and sister, both of whom are more concerned with their lives than his. Moreover, it can be inferred that his father has been absent for most parts of his life.

    Such a situation forces Max to escape from reality. The discovery of another world (which could be his imagination) allows him to start on a clean slate. There he proclaims himself as king of the land to a welcoming chorus of “wild things”. Jonze’s faithfulness in recreating Maurice Sendak’s book for the big screen is commendable, considering that there isn’t much to adapt in the first place.

    The “wild things” are rendered with consummate skill and made human-like not with CG effects (which are used only for the landscape) but through the painstaking efforts of craftsmen. One of the “wild things” called Carol plays Max’s alter ego. He cuts a lonesome figure and is often misunderstood by his “family”. Because of his size and relatability, he also becomes Max’s substitute father.

    This is where the film becomes a dark journey into the psyche of these characters. Both Max and Carol are sensitive people. They get emotionally hurt when no one cares about them. They also need each other even if at times their relationship becomes strained. Jonze captures the love and tension between these two characters excellently and builds up to a tearjerking climax.

    The climax is a thing of beauty; it has minimal dialogue and communication is mostly conveyed non-verbally. When Carol sees Max leaving in a small boat, they howl as if lamenting the loss of a loved one but at the same time, expressing shared memories of the past and perhaps the uncertainty that is the future.

    Have their lives changed for the better? No one really knows, but most certainly there has been an apparent positive impact. Accompanied by brilliant music by Carter Burwell and Karen Orzolek, Where the Wild Things Are deals with the theme of loneliness in such an affectionate way that we envisage the “wild things” as nothing less than human. Endearing stuff.

    GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)

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