18 October 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

I saw this last night.

Maurice Sendak wrote and illustrated Where the Wild Things Are in 1963. I was born two years later and I think my mother read it to me for the first time in 1969, the year I started kindergarten. Where the Wild Things Are was the first book I ever owned and between it and The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack, my lifelong fascination with the world outside the one I call home was set.

I poured over Wild Thing's ten sentences and 48 pages every day for years as I remember it, but it was probably more like a couple of weeks before I moved on to something else. However, that book looms large in my imagination still. Six months ago, I learned that Spike Jonze was making a film adaptation of it, and I was worried that my childhood memories would be short-changed by a movie version.

I had nothing to worry about. Jonze's adaptation is brilliant, and that he manages to flesh out Sendak's original 10 sentences into a two hour movie is a testament to his skill as a filmmaker and story teller. Honestly, It didn't feel like he added a thing, so seamlessly does the script play into the original story line.

Despite the source material, this is not a children's movie. It's an adult dissection of the memories and moods of a child, Max, the main character. In Max's fantasy world, time speeds up and slows down as needed. His imagination is glorious in its breadth but held in check by the limited experiences of a seven-year-old. He can't see those limitations of course, that's the allure of childhood. But the audience can and the result is a slow motion thrill.

The theater was full of other 40-somethings last night and sometimes, it's nice to share a cultural touchstone with a room full of strangers.

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