Film Break: “Where the Wild Things Are”
Released by Warner Brothers after a long, family-targeted marketing build-up, Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are is nevertheless an indie movie through and through; though Jonze met with acclaim for directing films like Adaptation, a more obvious touchstone for Wild Things is his oeuvre of music videos for the likes of Fatboy Slim and Bjork, videos that emphasized big feelings and a homemade aesthetic– traits shared by the best, least ironic forms if indie rock.
That may sound like the feeble attempts of a music blogger to tie a feature film in with his usual musical topics, but make no mistake: Jonze’s film really is an acutely musical film, not just because of its sophisticated integration of Karen O’s very fine original songs or because it’s become so closely tied to Arcade Fire’s song “Wake Up,” though it’s that latter connection that most effectively illuminates what this film is; like Arcade Fire’s Funeral LP, Wild Things is nothing if not a deeply expressive work, a film that’s less about the plot than it is the emotions that are worn so boldly on its sleeve.
And that makes sense: After all, it’s based on a book that contains only ten sentences and is better known for its vivid illustrations. Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers have fleshed things out, of course, so what we have in this movie is not an adaptation so much as an interpretation, one that fills in the blank spaces in the book without ever straying from the book’s aesthetic. Jonze and Eggers wisely decided to keep things somewhat abstract– the Wild Things themselves are not direct allegories, and they defy being made into strict symbols, existing as characters first and foremost– but they also mine the sparse story for psychological depth and emotional complexity, turning it into nothing less than a profound (and sure to be misunderstood) exploration of divorce and its effects on children. (David Poland’s analysis of this angle of the film is essential reading.)
This, of course, makes for a melancholy movie– something that is sure to make it unpopular in some circles– but it’s not an opressive sadness so much as an enveloping sadness, punctuated by moments of intimacy and warmth, flourishes of good-hearted humor, and a sense of primal desire and childlike integrity that fit its title. And indeed, with its feral emotions, its vast melancholy, and its refusal to gloss over hardship and suffering, it truly is a wild movie: The argument over whether this is a movie for children or adults is irrelevant, as it’s simply a beautiful and haunting film that resonates deeply.