One of the most misunderstood movies this year is bound to be " Where the Wild Things Are" (( Here’s the trailer in case you want to get a feel for the movie.)). According to many reviews this movie has no plot, structure, and could be considered valuable for it’s artistic value if it weren’t for the ugly things it portrays and the fact the wild things speak in regular human voices.
The sad reality is that this movie will be misunderstood and hated, not because it lacks anything, but because the large majority of it’s viewers do.
Here are several things required to understand the themes in the movie:
I think the hardest thing for most modern people to understand is that, contrary to the pervasive and culturally accepted presupposition of humanism, or the belief that we are all basically good; the sad reality is that we aren’t.
Most adults know and understand that they are broken but would like to pretend that children are innocent, unmarred by the broken and tumultuous world around us. In a word, whole. In stark contrast to this notion, however, from the very beginning of the movie (as with the first page of the book) we learn that Max is not whole.
He’s profoundly broken.
He is also not unique as some would like to suppose, as if Max were some sort of deranged lunatic. You know, the one in a million kid who ends up becoming a serial killer later on in life.
No, Max is completely normal in his brokenness. And therein lies one of the fundamental disconnects most modern people will have with this movie.
We think that people become broken over time. We think Max became by something his mother did. Or father, sister, sister’s friends, school, society, etc. (fill in your own existential cause of choice). While those things certainly don’t help, they also aren’t the source of our inner turmoil either. We are.
Until we recognize this fundamental fact, neither the movie nor the book will make much sense to us.
Some things don’t get broken, they come that way.
We like to think we are alone in our brokenness and naturally gravitate to others to fix our problems. Max looked to his sister and his mother while the wild things looked for a king. We all long for someone to fix our brokenness and we are all afraid, like Max, to admit what we know deep down. The fixing we need requires more than other broken people can provide. Put simply,
Broken things can’t fix broken things.
Towards the end of the movie Max and his wild counterpart, Carol, are faced with the reality that their own worst enemies are themselves and that they have inflicted a lot of pain on those around them, whether they deserved it or not. They are faced with the simple truth.
They are out of control.
They’ve made a mess of things and there are only two things they can do. Either they can ignore the mounting body count caused by their selfish and destructive rages. Or they can accept the fact that they are often the enemy that others need saving from.
Instead of being the knight that rides in with shining armor, they must face the reality that armor is tarnished and their motives are far from selfless and pure. The truth is, while we may not plan to eat anyone, we end up biting and devouring everyone around us at some point.
Behind the modern movement that attempts to redefine tolerance as mere acceptance of other’s thoughts and actions there is an understanding of a simple truth: Since we are all broken we must learn to forgive the brokenness we find in other if we are to survive.
Not that we should ignore the destruction and failings, we certainly should strive to hold each other accountable in an effort to grow and become less broken than we were. But the truth is that intimacy is like two objects rubbing against each other, and relationships between broken things is akin to two rough surfaces rubbing against each other. Sparks fly, heat is generated, sometimes one piece breaks in ways never intended by the other piece, and sometimes both pieces wonder if such friction is really worth it. As one of the wild things quips,
It’s hard being a family.
And as hard as it is, the movie begs us to explore the question of whether lonliness or “the pile” will win out as the most important. Ultimately the question boils down to whether those around us are worth the effort. worth the sweat, tears, and the occasional lost limb. Are the scars worth it?
Do we dare to love that much?
The message of the movie is really not hard to figure out. ((The movie poster pictured above actually spells out the entire plot in one succinct line.))
It’s all about the human soul or, as my wife pointed out, “the tortured soul of a child” ((A tortured child that happens to live in all of us.)). However, without the proper categories of thought outlined above the movie will appear incoherent and without structure. Not because it lacks structure, but because it doesn’t fit the extropian philosophical structure held by most modern people.
Many will miss the deep themes explored in this film. However some will get it. The difference will lie whether we dare to take an honest look in the mirror or whether we will allow our demons, our wild things, to hinder us in our quest for truth, our quest for wholeness.