Where the wild boys are

In watching Spike Jonze’s amazing film, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, I kept glancing at my five year-old son. Could it be true that we were actually enjoying the same movie on the same level of interest and engagement? That’s both fascinating and a little bit scary.

If you haven’t seen it yet, do. Unlike anything to cross mainstream screens in a some time, WTWTA is built on a series of purely visual, visceral experiences and interactions, and not at all on plot. Perrin Drumm made a similar point in her post on the film. (I won’t be giving anything away by telling you that the road to the climax hinges on one individual wanting to, like, build a really cool secret room out of sticks, and another individual being extraordinarily pissed and offended at the exclusivity of that conceit. The nerve!)

Back to the five year-old – I asked him later about his favorite part, and turns out it was the dirt clod fight, as I expected. (He wouldn’t give me any details as to why – he just sang “I like the dirt clod, I like the dirt clod” over and over and over again to the tune of “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land.”) Jonze’s strength here is to combine child-like elements with very present, high-octane emotions, so the dirt clod fight as children’s film trope is re-imagined – never to be the same again, simply because dirt is being thrown HARD, and it’s actually very rough and very scary. Disney dirt would be more like “Hey kids, let’s toss some diggity-dang sand! Swell!”

Another observation makes me conclude, easily, that the film is pure BOY. The press and the filmmakers, of course, have claimed a more gender-neutral, universalizing approach, that it in fact engages CHILDHOOD, but I disagree. Are there girls out there who throw dirt just as violently? Of course. But the majority are socialized otherwise, by a million tiny forces (not to mention the hormones.) Wanna feel what it’s like to be a boy? To combine a powerful cocktail of sensitivity with action, aggression, force, speed and love? I myself relished the antics unfolding before my eyes as an armchair (or movie chair) participant, but my son? He was practically crawling in to the screen.

Recently in The New York Times, A.O. Scott argued that some recent “children’s films,” including WTWTA, engage far more complex ideas than many adult films. (He articulates theme in Jonze’s film: “No place is free of conflict and bad feeling, and no person has the power to make problems disappear. Where there is happiness — friendship, adventure, affection, security — there is also, inevitably, disappointment. That’s life.”) In this case, I absolutely agree. Strikingly unconventional from its structure to color palette to dialogue style, WTWTA, boy as it may be, is simply a wonderful ride. Watch the trailer here: