Where The Wild Things Are - Spike Jonze - Going against the grain.



Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Stendak ( 1963 ) was one of my most cherished books as a child, the dark, slightly sinister world that Max ( the story's protagonist ) escaped to filled my imagination with wonderous thoughts of what goes bump in the woods. The books illustrations were perhaps the most striking I had come across - and years later they adorned the sides of skateboard wheels and the fronts of t shirts. The Wild Things had found a place in other hearts than my own. Perhaps it was the introspective nature of Max, or the possibility of escapism from a dull or fraught domestic situation? Perhaps it was the stripey furred monsters, the nordic palm trees or the proliferation of crawling vines. Perhaps it was the power of imagination, or the possibilities of a powerful imagination. Whatever the particular appeal Stendak tapped into throughout literary history childrens story books have often basked in the fantasy of escapism through ones own imagination. Another, alternative world of fantasy has often been the solace of an insecure child or even psychologically and/or emotionally insecure ( or ill equipped ) adults. Escapism is a natural tendency, but the escape to a realm of fantasy, totally separate form the current world,  could be the consequence of natural escapist impulses. The pull of these impulses may not be enough for a proportion of people to emancipate their conciousness and migrate between worlds from the familiar to the unfamiliar -  the uncanny. A push is needed. The push could be almost anything for almost anyone. ( Arthur Bremner killed Senator George Wallace because he was still a virgin - only connect ). The push could well be much stronger post 9/11. An overused and sweeping generalization but the slow slip of our entertainment preferences into more and more fantastical and removed tastes does hold a peculiar correlation. Could this increasing attraction ( after all the entertainment industry responds to demand in order to create sucess ) to fantastical elements be a reaction to a rather unwholesome post 9/11 universe? A chance to stick our heads in the sand if only for a short while amongst sticky seats and cumbersome cup holders? The world of entertainment has certainly provided all the sand needed for us ostreich's who need a place to put our heads, somewhere away from the desert of the real post 9/11 world. Entertainment will always be escapist in some capacity - but to what degree? The 80's world of John McClane fighting terrorist's at airports or Roseannne's dysfunctional sitcoms ( played out by an American working class family struggling to get by on a limited household income ) are realistic, familiar ( for reasons good or bad ) and essentially non-fantastic. In that the only escapism available is the escapism that Eastenders has flourished upon for years : Escaping away from ones own problems into a world of other peoples problems. The entertainment offered in the later half of the noughties seems utter fantasy in comparison. Ugly Betty, Lost, Life on Mars, Harry Potter, Sopranos ( the last two series in particular harbouring an acute existential detachment ), 300 and Sin City, Kill Bill, the Superman, Spiderman and X-men franchises - Where did all the realism go? Juno and The Wire, thats where - realism is now a minority, in fact reality TV,  the icy stare and glow of the cctv camera image is now a brushed and polished edition ( in thats its edited within an inch or two of its life ). The cold realism of airport, or Big Brother Series 1 has been  eroded by fantasy and the need for escapism leaving celeb ( not Celebrity ) dance competitions and the prozaic MTV series The Hills. So 2010 would seem like a great time to adapt Stendak's Where The Wild Things Are - bath it in fantasy and provide the comforting prospect of free escapism that I and no doubt so many children adore. Spike Jonze thought otherwise. So instead Max, the protagonist of his Where The Wild Things Are,  finds no escapism, no relief - just the same insecure, paranoid, emotionally dysfunctional and stubborn characteristics that he wished to run away from. No escape. Its the greatest horror trick in the book, to flee something or someone that terrifies; only to meet the dreaded fiend within the supposed realm of solace. The Wild Things are not magical or kind, just snarky, defensive and insecure. The horrid power struggles of life, the long held grudges, the locked characters ( where defense mechanism becomes personality ) are all painfully present in the world of the wild thing. Success is not given to Max, in fact, like life, success was never even available to him because he wasn't born a king. In short Max runs away from his problems into another bigger, colder and meaner world only to be greeted by a canned 'welcome to the world kid'.


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