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Where the wild things are

December 15, 2009

Ira. Max and Carole from the film

Ira, Max and Carole in Where the Wild Things Are

Last night we went to see Where the Wild Things Are with my eight year old daughter and her friend. It was something I had been looking forward to ever since we visited the Maurice Sendak exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco a few months back.

The book has remained a favourite of mine from my childhood and had gathered additional layers when I added a Wild Things themed t-shirt to my list of memorabilia from my semester at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The exhibition in San Francisco include original watercolors, preliminary sketches, drawings, and dummy books from more than 40 of Sendak’s books and it changed the way that I understood Max and the Wild Things.

In his blog in the Guardian yesterday ( David Cox notes that “Where the Wild Things Are turns out to be a thorough and perceptive critique of a world in which grownups are encouraged to behave like spoilt children, valuing emotion above thought and believing they enjoy the right to have their whims indulged however impracticable this may be.”

To me the film had elements that were cruel, naive, full of fear, ignorance and jealousy. In short, it was brilliant.

Children (and by extension all of us as we were all children at some point) are cruel and naive. Often jealous, ignorant simply because they have not had the chance to know, they are often fearful because of their lack of knowledge. In the film Max’s teacher tells his class that one day the sun will die and consume the earth. It is Carole who gives voice to Max’s fears when he says during a sleepless night in which he threatens to destroy all that they have worked to build “and now I have to worry about the sun dying. It went away and it hasn’t come back.”

My youngest hated the rain. We thought it was because the recent drought had made it a rare event in her life. She asked questions about floods. We live on a hill so we reassured her that water runs down hill so even if there was a flood we would be safe. To no avail. Then in a quiet moment as we watched the lightning one evening she asked that as Australia was at the bottom of the globe, wouldn’t all the water go to the bottom and cover the whole of Australia?

I agree with David Cox when he adds “Self-indulgence, self-destructiveness, self-delusion, jealousy and vanity loom far more starkly when attributed to zany monsters than they would if acted out by flesh-and-blood humans.” Max and the Wild Things are all of those things. We are all of those things. Our challenge is to take a journey similar to Max’s so that we can come to recognise and befriend all of those elements in ourselves.

I don’t believe the we can ever rid ourselves of those elements. As Max is leaving the island the Wild Thing that has not previously spoken asks if upon his return home Max will speak well of them. I think that the best we can hope for is to get ourselves to a point where we can speak well of the Wild Things that dwelled in each of us as children and continue to do so today … and to recognise that ultimately we are all at heart a child pretending to be a wolf, pretending to be a King.

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