US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Where the Wild Things Are

By Patrick McCormick | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
Where the Wild Things Are (Warner Brothers, 2009)

Almost 45 years after Maurice Sendak's dark little fairy tale first saw the light of day director Spike Jonze has brought this magical children's story to the screen, and the result is equally unsettling and satisfying.

Normally the child protagonists in our fables are full of innocence, charm and sweetness, and all the danger and adventure comes from monsters and dragons hiding beneath beds and behind closet doors. But in Sendak's tale the darkness is a brooding angst and loneliness in the heart of 6-year-old Max, a child who knows and understands what it is to be alone, overlooked or forgotten -- to be oh so human and afraid.

Max is a boy who feels the distance between himself and others, who knows how cruel and unfair life and other children can be, who boils over into a tantrum at a mother who is momentarily cold and harsh. From our adult perch the ordinary insults of childhood seem like trivial things, but for Sendak's little Hamlet, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune are horrible, no good, very bad things indeed, and he wishes to flee from his puny state to a jungle or island where he might rule over all the monsters and beasts who have power over him.

In this faraway place with strange-looking creatures, the wild and tempestuous Max finds a dreamlike power that places him over huge and wooly creatures who would terrify Little Red Riding Hood. Here he can safely unleash his simmering anger and give voice to the tantrums storming within, knocking down the monsters' places and giving vent to his furies. And here he can befriend his own wildness and come to understand the passions and flaws running through those who frighten and disturb him.

There is a lesson in this wild romp, in this nightmare dream that allows him to feel and release some of the fears and angers running through his pint-sized veins. Perhaps the lesson is that his terrors and tantrums are part of the wildness of being a child, of being human, and that having befriended this wildness Max can return home with a sense of safety and warmth. He may not be alone.