I went to see "Where the Wild Things Are" today, alone. I frequently see films by myself, and expected a large crowd for opening day, even a weekday at 11 am. What I honestly wasn't expecting, even in Manhattan, was to see class after class of young kids, tethered to teacher after teacher, filing in. They'd ditched school to see this picture on its first day. I wondered what their teachers were feeling, watching their students sit through the first desperately intense 20 minutes.
I'm an easy weeper, and so it was that my waterworks kicked in during the first few scenes (I related a little too easily to Max's mom's impatience over his totally typical boy behavior; I've been trying not to say "don't" every other sentence with a failure that leaves me ashamed). In these first scenes I was also tossed back into the confusion of childhood fears and loneliness; not the make believe kind found in perilous story books, but the real kind that being raised by a single mother in a foreign land brought to the doorstep of my young consciousness. When Catherine Keener, who plays Max's mom, flirts with her boyfriend, played by Mark Ruffalo, I watched Max feel the absence of his father. More than that, though, I wanted Max to be her number one boy again, and I felt that physical ache that the threat of being replaced brings.
It's amazing what Spike Jonze has created. This is a masterpiece: a beautiful, incredible, and maybe even faultess movie. I swooned at the vast spaces and the painterly treatment of the ship on the water, the staggering forts in the desert, the giant monsters looking humble against a giant sky.
But can I take my six year old to see it? It's taken me a few hours to process why I think not.
My son, who's incredibly sensitive and works hard to overcome his own emotional monsters with skills he's developed with a lot of help along the way like deep breathing, would undoubtedly appreciate the scenery and the wild rumpus and the boat ride and the music and Max being a king, and much of the rest of it. That said, the very thing that makes this a masterpiece is that Jonze (and his writing partner Dave Eggers) have so accurately captured a young boys' consciousness (their own?) and projected it onto the silver screen. It's right there, raw and yours for the taking. It might be too much to expect my six year old to process at this point. How can I ask Jamie to face his own emotional monsters in such a bared-out way before he's mastered them on his own? It's like asking him to understand himself while he's still laying out the very early foundation for all of his different parts. His development is a deliberate construction with its own series of volcanic eruptions; growing up isn't easy.
Max is confused, and each one of his new monster friends represents a different emotion. It is the ultimate command of these emotions that allows him the peace to return home. The thing is, Max is a good three years older than Jamie. My expectations of my kid are always pretty high. I, like any other mom, imagine their kid to be the brightest star among millions. Maybe that doesn't mean I need to rush him through the processing of his childhood, just because I liked the movie so much. Max has been around since 1963. He's not going anywhere, and neither is this newly born classic. We can wait awhile.
Meanwhile, I can say that perhaps seeing this film has made me a better parent. I read an article analyzing WTWTA (the book) as a disciplinary tool: send your wild kid to their room for a time away, not a time out, and let them sit in there until they're ready to join the family again. It might take some time for them to understand all of their anger and feelings; you might want to interrupt this process and you should not, the article warned. They might seem like they're just building or drawing or reading, but what they're really doing is creating their own forest and wild rumpus to assimilate their feelings and take control over them again. When they're in there, they're King. When they come back, they're once again boy, not out of control monster, and they're happy to be so.