Where the Wild Thing Is – A Domesticated Disease
(The following is totally subjective, sorry if I upset anyone)
I can’t help feeling that Spike Jonze’s cinematic adaption of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ isn’t merely a successful film about the pains and joys of childhood. It also gets to the nuts and bolts of the pain and joy of existence (‘Being’ as Martin whatsit once said). And it does this without pretention, something these words will fail to do. I’m acutely aware that what I’m trying to put on paper is pretentious, is cod-philosophical rubbish, maybe.
That’s the trouble with the very modern human – acute awareness. We feel nowadays that there is more to living than surviving, where as the wild thing (from the lone wolf and the grizzly bear, down to the dormouse and the wild salmon) knows only surviving and that pain and occasional joy are simply a matter of course. There’s no endless search for happiness and that’s what keeps them content and unaware.
The film, adapted from the children’s books written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, seems to perform that illusive task of having a faithfulness to the original work, while creating enough nuance to be able to be considered a piece of art in its own right. Before we (the viewer) even meet any monsters, we’re already bluntly reminded of the hyper-emotion of childhood, when the carelessness or preoccupation of siblings and parents seems outrageously unfair. In adulthood we still feel the same niggles, but instead of having a vengeful tantrum it is usually shut off in a little box.
Sendak is rumoured to have re-imagined some of the visual traits of relatives or acquaintances in his Wild Things and the film elaborates on these in giving personality to the monsters. They’re all a bit uncannily familiar, like we spent time with them at a family wedding, or had a conversation with them in the pub one night.
The viewer feels a familiar awkwardness when these monsters break into irrational tantrums and sulks and desperately try to find a scapegoat for their lack of happiness. It’s like a mirror on the human conscious; it’s ourselves magnified back in caricature.
On a personal level it really reminded me the strangest disease in our domesticated society – depression. Traditional forms of depression exist beyond the human species, most intelligent animals for example show symptoms of grief when they lose a loved one (by death or circumstance). But it’s only the domesticated that have the luxury of too much time to suffer long term depression. And it always seems the more intelligent the animal or human, the more acute the depression.
I can speak only from my own experience of the people diagnosed (and undiagnosed) with what doctors deem a chemical imbalance in the brain. Unhappily this covers a fair percentage of all the people I’ve ever cared about. Within the umbrella of depression there are various perceived ‘types’, and in its manifestation in human behaviour it can be everything from terrible rage, to mute despair, to a sudden inability to perform the tasks of everyday life. Or all of these.
In the monsters faces there’s a touching humanity, which seems to describe in return our monster. In a safe, civilised, equal society, the only thing the human has to fear is themselves. Without natural dangers to be wary and fearful of we become complacent and irrational worries tend to boil to the surface.
One of the strange things about depression, is it often occurs most severely and shockingly when the sufferer is at a comfortable point in their life. With a good, steady job, often a good steady relationship. As though a panic reaction – as though they previously thought their unhappiness was to do with what they didn’t have and they suddenly realised they had it and still weren’t happy.
Particularly though, it seems to occur in young adults, at a crucial point in their life. And here it’s the most destructive, because it’s attacking the very roots of a person still developing in character. Like people who start smoking at a very young age, it stunts growth, maybe not physically (besides the telltale signs of side-effects such as insomnia, eating disorders, self-harm and substance abuse) but surely emotionally. The developing adult seems stopped in their tracks by some invisible, unfathomable wall.
Jonze’s Wild Things demonstrate in beastly fashion how to let the trivial nonsense get to you and destroy what you genuinely have – friendship, love, a sense of belonging… and the opportunity to sleep in a great big pile of hairy snoring monsters. It’s inevitable that Max must in the end leave this strange island, having learned the harsh lesson that you can’t make everybody happy all the time. He must return to the ‘real world’ and be adult enough to apologise for biting his own mum (for starters). It’s difficult to leave your inner monsters behind, they’re a part of you, it isn’t easy to let go. I must now resist finishing on some sentimental note, as though there’s a lesson to be learned here. I’ve sadly learned in my life a similar thing to wee Max, King of the Wild Things – there are no magic words or actions to make people happier.Over & owt