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Where were the wild things?…

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I posed a question to Twitter the other night.  Who, if anyone, has never read (or had read to them) Where The Wild Things Are?  No one responded “no”… no one, that is, except me.  Yeah, I know, weird.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not like  I’d never *heard* of it… I suppose in asking I was looking  for someone else out there like me… someone who either missed or totally can’t remember that book.  My partner, after discovering this, immediately pulled a copy off the bookshelf in disbelief and read me the book. both of us expecting, I think, for the illustrations or narration to ring a bell.  Nothing.  I was familiar with the iconic images that are plastered everywhere, of course, but as we read through it, there was nothing familiar about the story.  Again, I know, weird.

There are a lot of things about my childhood I don’t remember.  I think that’s true for many people for many different reasons.  Over time, I’ve certainly discovered I have my fair share of blank pages.  I’ve also discovered for many of those pages, there’s a pretty good explanation as to why. I’ve found myself wondering if this is one of those strange things.  I have a difficult time believing I’ve never read this story, given its popularity and the fact that I was quite an avid little reader as a child.  So I find myself wondering why this would have been something filed away with no access for so many years.

We watched the movie tonight on demand.  Again, I wondered if anything from it would jog my memory about the book or speak to me in some way.  I didn’t find anything familiar about it, but I did find it to be an amazingly emotional adaptation of a pretty benign childhood story.  I find myself, days later, still thinking about the movie and the emotions it elicited. 

I’ve heard some people were unhappy with the tone of the movie.  Some people were simply bored or unimpressed, perhaps expecting a more special effects centered movie.  Some people found it to be too dark, too depressing.  I found it to be simply amazing.  Of course, we all bring our own experiences to the table when evaluating a book or movie.  I suppose if something really strikes a familiar cord, especially a deep one from youth, it makes a bigger, louder impression.  This movie screamed at me.  There was nothing about it that made it unsuitable for children to watch.  At the same time, there was something so incredibly raw, honest, simple, yet profoundly complex about it.  There was something simultaneously optimistic and sadly  sobering about the film.  It spoke about loneliness, anger, fear, sadness, and an expectation that someone should be able to make everything better.  It pointed out the flaw in that basic childhood belief.  It demonstrated how each of those emotions are intrinsic in everyone’s experience in some way.  It did not rebuke or seek to hide or squash those emotions. It did not seek to blame anyone for the existence of such feelings.  It simply validated each person’s reality.. each person’s experiences, each person’s emotional reactions. And it seemed to seek to provide comfort in highlighting the similarity of us all… in our shared sorrow and fear and anger and disappointment… perhaps for different reasons, but certainly with the same degree of importance to us all.  It was quite possibly one of the most beautiful, enjoyable, yet personally painful movies I’ve ever seen.

Maybe I’m being dramatic.  Maybe I’m reading WAY too much into it.  I don’t know.  In all of the directions the movie could have gone based on a pretty straightforward and familiar story, I do find it odd that it went right after the pain… the loneliness, the sadness… the things that make us forget the things that hurt us… especially as children, if for no other reason than to protect us from a more damaging or immediate pain that we couldn’t at the time begin to understand.  Sometimes, certainly not always, it was pain that had no blame. It was simply life.  Sometimes those uncomfortable emotions (and the ability to feel them) eventually take us closer to happiness than we would have ever been without them.  I suppose that’s why therapists will never go out of business.  It’s completely natural to resist or run from them.  But only in understanding them that we can begin to move past them.  And it’s only in remembering them that we can begin to understand them.  So I choose to see those holes I’m still filling in no longer as simply sad and heartbreaking memories to be avoided, but also as paths to happiness. And I hope everyone can learn from it and remember that life IS already so hard so often for so many.  Can’t we all try not to make it worse?


5 responses »

  1. Thank you for sharing your observations about a film that I believe will one day be viewed as Spike Jonze’s masterpiece.

    You put words to the responses to this brilliant film that welled up from within. My 15 year old son insisted we buy the DVD even though we’d seen it together on the big screen. On my second viewing I was profoundly affected by the emotional nuances I’d missed the first time. I’d read the book to all my children without ever connecting with the meaning behind it, a child’s struggle to resolve the confusions of life.

    Thanks again.

  2. It wasn’t till I read your post that I realized I don’t remember the story, either. I think I must have read it at some point, and I remember the pictures, but I’m drawing a complete blank on the meaning/message. You’ve made me want to see the movie.

  3. You know, I saw your tweet and misunderstood it. I thought you were asking who had read the book for the first time *after* having seen the movie.

    Since I first encountered the book in second grade, in 1972, that would exclude me out of the above equasion. All three of my children grew up with the book. I haven’t seen the movie yet, though, although my daughters (of which I have two) have.

    I agree with Ms. Wadley, your post is beautifully written. I’m sure the film evokes emotions not necessarily evoked in reading the book; the book was designed for children who are just learning more advanced reading, whereas the film will have a scenic feast for the senses.

    And bless Mr. Sendak for forthrightly coming out during a New York Times interview two years ago.

  4. This is a beautifully written post- thank you for sharing. I have always loved the book, and was moved by the movie in ways I didn’t expect, with emotions that still come flooding in when I think of it. I watched it with my seven-year-old son, Max, and have never felt so connected to both childhood and adulthood at the same time. I hope I never forget the lessons I’ve taken from the experience.

  5. I agree. I did think it was more a movie about children than a children’s movie. The children I know did enjoy it though. It fully explored some things the book hinted at. Lovely movie.


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