A beautiful adaptation of the classic children’s book, Where The Wild Things Are follows the journey of a young boy named Max who feels out of place in the world. His sister is too busy with her friends to see his igloo creation. His mother is too busy on the phone to join in on his games. He feels alone.
That is until he enters the fantasy land where the wild things are – a world inside his head where he tries to make sense of the older figures in his life. The creatures there are angry, lonely and sad with no structure to their lives, and they need a king. And so Max becomes one.
Where the Wild Things Are isn’t what you expect it to be. Whilst it’s rated PG, I wouldn’t say it’s a kids film. It’s dark, laced with complex metaphors, and touches on a lot of deeper issues within Max’s life which would be overwhelming for any young audience member. But for an adult to watch, it’s refreshing to see the kid’s perspective. Max represents the misunderstood child who is trying to make sense of the world he lives in, who is often overlooked and pushed aside when adult problems surface.
There are many moments in this film that can be unravelled like tape, especially since the monsters Max meets are representative of the people and struggles in his life. I found this film so interesting and inspiring that I can’t help but type out my thoughts on moments that really resonated with me or got me thinking about the world in a different way.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Max’s Family Dynamics
I think one of the most important pairs of characters in the film are Max and KW. I believe KW represents Max’s mother, and their interactions in the fantasy land of the monsters represents Max’s struggles to see eye to eye with his mother’s decisions and actions in his life.
There is a scene where KW has left for a while to spend time with Bob and Terry the owls (paralleling the way Max’s Mum leaves Max to spend time with friends), but has returned with them in tow.
Max asks: How do I make everyone okay?
A heart-breaking question with an equally heart-breaking response. Bob and Terry respond in squawks, since they are merely owls, and KW laughs in recognition. But Max can’t understand. The squawks of “adult language” distance Max from the true picture. He is reduced to the role of a passive child in a world where he feels very deeply the effects of adult life – that which he sees but does not quite understand and isn’t allowed to understand.
NW tells Max that Bob and Terry can come live with us too.
Max asks: What about Carol?
It is evident from the start that Carol is Max’s inner monster – the turmoil inside of him that feels isolated from the rest of the other monsters, who doesn’t understand why they do what they do, who feels angry and hurt and better when Max is around to take care of him (to acknowledge his own mental state) but not when Max fights him.
So, when Max asks about Carol he is in fact asking about himself. NW says she can like Bob and Terry whilst still liking Max, much like Max’s mother can spend time with her friends and Max too, but in reality, this doesn’t do much to comfort Max. There is no exclusivity to love and yet Max feels like an afterthought to Bob and Terry (to his Mum’s friends), as if he has been abandoned for another pursuit.
It is a particularly haunting reflection on the role of a child within complicated family dynamics and I loved how it was scripted and filmed with these soft moments of sensitivity that can quite easily be missed yet stop you enough to question its role in the wider picture.
The Monster Pile (And Dying Sun)
Another moment that particularly struck me was the monster pile that Max finds himself stuck within. Whilst it parallels Max getting stuck in the igloo at the start, this time he isn’t crying of fear but feeling comfort in those around him. Later on, when Carol’s anger is bubbling to the surface, Max becomes scared of Carol – of his own emotions – and attempts to create a secret room to shut out the parts of himself he doesn’t want to face. Some really beautiful yet painful words are spoken.
Carol says: I thought we were all going to sleep in a big pile but now you want a secret room and the sun is going to die.
This is arguably one of my favourite quotes from the film. It touches on the idea that has been laced throughout the film – that the sun will no longer be there someday, that the concept of hope and happiness and warmth in the distance will one day fizzle out. And this is finally tied into the role of the big pile – this family unit that keeps Max feeling whole, like he’s part of something, but that eventually is sectioned off into empty rooms and individual lives, much like Max feels is happening in his own life back at home. He feels himself drifting from his family and locking himself away in a secret room where he can only experience the wild emotions that dare to break down his walls. It is only when Carol speaks these words that we truly understand, as a viewer, that this is how Max has been feeling all along.
The Meaning of Max As A King
I think the role of the King is also particularly interesting and relevant to Max’s inner journey. Max takes on this role within the monsters’ lives from the very beginning in an attempt to formulate control. Whether this was intentional or not, this reminded me a lot of the globe in Max’s room at the start, where his Dad had written something about being the owner of the world. Like many kids, Max grows up with this quiet confidence that he can rule his own world, that he can achieve his dreams, but as he finds himself caught between the messiness of the adults in his life he realises being a King is, in many senses, meaningless. He doesn’t always have the control that he wants. And sometimes there is nothing he can do about it.
When Carol loses this desired control and his anger rises, there is a moment between Max and KW that I think is a beautiful parallelism to Max and his mother. Filmed and acted with a deep sense of care and sensitivity, the words that Max and his mother have been feeling but never said are finally spoken aloud.
Max: He doesn’t mean to be that way KW… he’s just scared.
KW: He just makes it hard. And it’s hard enough already.
Max: But he loves you. You’re his family.
KW: Yeah… it’s hard being a family.
And as the final scene of the film is shot, when Max’s mother embraces him, we have these words in the back of our minds as a viewer. There is nothing needed but their expressions and the words that are still hovering over their heads from the monster land. A subdued acceptance that things may not always be okay but they’re okay.
Where the Wild Things Are is truly a unique film in a myriad of different ways – so many opportunities to sit and reflect and analyse, if you enjoy diving as deep into the meaning as I do. It’s complex, and I think perhaps that can be off-putting for a lot of people, but it was truly amazing how the fantasy land of the monsters became such a real and raw representation of real life.
Overall, this film is entirely what you make of it. The deeper you dive into the parallels between the monsters and the people in Max’s life, the more you understand how his psyche is explained through the many interactions he has in the strange and wonderful world where the wild things are. It’s reflective, all-consuming and if you let it, makes you think. And the monsters are universal. Max finds his way back home, like we all do, when those wild things let loose inside. And he is free.
Have you watched Where The Wild Things Are?
Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below.