Wrapping up the Wild Things


When we last saw Max and the wild things Max had been reborn from K.W.’s mouth, and though we’ve skipped around and picked out only the Max/Carol/K.W. story line it’s been enough to see clearly who Carol and K. W. represent in Max’s fantasy, and to get a feel for the ambiguous characters Bob and Terry, the owls that Carol blames for competing with him for K.W.’s affection.

Max admits that he is not king, and tries to do magic, which seems to bring some flakes of snow, or perhaps just ashes from the fire. He cannot find Carol, only crushed remnants of his model of what he wants his island to be, and takes the twigs and makes a heart in the dirt as an offering.

The wild things escort him to his boat and Carol, who finds the message in the cave, races to get there to see him off. And Bernard, the ambiguous, vaguely threatening bull creature, does say goodby–(we’ll eat you up, we love you so). My speculation, and there’s not really enough there to say for sure, but I think that in both the book and the film that he represents the unequivocally male figure in Max’s life that is mostly on the sidelines, only seen occasionally but felt acutely, even if only by his absence: Max’s father.

The wild things, finally united on beach as Max is leaving, have a last howl, lamenting Max’s departure from the fantasy and return to his mother, now with some understanding of his own feelings (and hers) if not the unambiguous mastery that he attained in the book. Max, too, howls.

He sails back through the ocean, runs through the neighborhood into his house, where the remainder of the film is essentially wordless as Max eats soup and chocolate cake with his mother watching him, smiling, benevolent.

Then she falls asleep as he watches, mirroring his wished-for mothering and the mothering that she was able to give him after his return.

Odds and ends:

Sendak, throughout his career has been devoted to giving voice to the real fears and frustrations of real children. His books, therefore, are often controversial and he is a fixture on the ALA’s banned and challenged book lists. In fact, he was still one of the most frequently banned and challenged authors as late as 2004.

You should know that Where the Wild Things Are started out life as The Island of the Wild Horses. It may be apocryphal, but the story goes that his editor asked him to change it because she didn’t like the way he drew the horses. He instead used monsters which were character studies of his uncles and aunts.

Finally, there is some synergy in the universe. Sendak illustrated The Juniper Tree in a collection of translated fairy tales. I don’t have a copy of his illustrations, and if someone could point me toward them I’d love it.


4 Responses to “Wrapping up the Wild Things”

  1. After reading the posts on the movie I sat down to watch it with my son who is 9 years old. Interestingly, he was extremely disturbed by the first several scenes, specifically: Max’s rage and out of control behavior after the igloo incident, the frightening things the science teacher spoke about, Max’s second tantrum when he bit his mother and ran away out the door and finally when he started sailing in the boat and fell into the water. He asked me if we could stop watching the movie. He mentioned that there is a child in his class who behaves like that (I am already aware of it-the child gets very angry, pushes desks around, throws things and is verbally abusive) and apparently my son just couldn’t handle watching it in the movie. He felt frightened and upset by the short bit of it that he watched. I was hoping we could get through that part and that maybe he’d want to see the next section but he didn’t want to. I continued watching it later after he went to bed. I thought it was very well done aside from the ending which I found unsatisfying and a little too pat. I thought the mother’s reaction when Max returned lacked a certain honesty. But mostly I felt that this movie is for an older audience and quite a large leap in emotional intensity from the book.

    Just as an aside, it’s not as if my son doesn’t watch violence-plenty of star wars battles, etc. But maybe the realism of it was hard to take. I’m also thinking that he somehow didn’t realize that Max getting into the boat and starting to sail away was the beginning of “fantasy” and maybe the movie keeps that deliberately ambiguous. I think he was also frightened by that idea-a child running away from home, getting into a boat alone, falling into the water-all the dangerous things that we don’t want kids to get into. Somehow it didn’t seem like an adventure to my son because of the anger.

    I’m curious about reactions from other children. I get the feeling that the directors and producers thought that children will identify with Max and with what he is going through and relate to him. Not in my son’s case. Ideas?

  2. Too close to real, maybe, and too close to his own fears and fantasies? And those first scenes are far more realistic and close to a 9 year old’s world than Star Wars violence could ever be! By the time the ocean comes tumbling by in the movie Max has really been pretty traumatized. In the book it’s clear that Max is safe in his room and the trees and ocean are clearly dream-like, but in the movie it feels like another traumatic event. There isn’t the controlled, safe quality to the island in the movie that one feels in the book, either. The dream quality one feels to the walls becoming the trees all around, and the sailing in and out of . . . puts the island in a place that isn’t as threatening in the book, as does the voice of a mother or father reading. The movie is without a lot of that protection.

    I do agree, too, that Max’s emotional resolution with his mother at the end of the book had a lot less of a “real” feel and less force than the events on the island, and worse, a lot less of a real feel than the events before the island.

  3. 3 Joshy

    This is such a good movie. Sometimes I feel like the only person in the world who actually appreciated it. A lot of people I know, I think only watched the movie on the surface level, and I don’t think they truly appreciated how beautiful it was – instead getting to the end and thinking “What the heck was that? What was the point? Where is the plot?”

    I showed this movie to two of my friends last night, and fortunately they both “got it” and absolutely loved it.
    One of my favorite movies ever.

  1. 1 Maurice Sendak « FreePlayTherapy

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