I was FINALLY able to see Where the Wild Things Are this week and I was not disappointed. I have been looking forward to this movie for a long time. When I found out that Spike Jonze was writing and directing the on-screen adaptation of my favorite boyhood book, I was as giddy as a school girl! I have been following Jonze since the 90's and the glory days of MTV (a la Weezer, Beastie Boys, and Fatboy Slim). I use to sit in front of my Mom's TV for hours, knowing exactly when a Spike Jonze video was on and studying its every layer. Believe it or not, MTV once housed and supported creative artists. How the dismal tide has turned!
Nevertheless, this movie was surprising. From viewing the trailers and sampling the soundtrack, I sort of guessed in advance that it would be more adult than expected and it certainly is. Wild Things traverses themes of fear, anger, love, hope, divorce, and despair. It forces introspection and causes anyone who has lived through a divorce to face the painful past. Even with all of the heaviness (my wife Allie described it as unexpectedly sad), I still walked away with faith, hope, and love in my heart.
The main character, Max, is an angry boy. The opening scene finds Max chasing his dog with a fork and you sincerely wonder whether the family pet has met its end at the hands of a child monster. As the movie progresses, however, it is clear that Max is simply "acting out." His father is absent (due to an assumed divorce), his mom is busy with work and a new love interest, and his sister largely ignores her annoying little brother. One night, when Max has reached his wits end, he runs away to a nearby forest, finds a conveniently-placed sail boat, and then catches the nearest trade wind to a far-off island.
By this point in the movie I had already shed more than a few tears. I cannot tell you how badly I wanted to run away from my world as an angry, young boy. My parents' divorce put what often seemed to be unbearable strain on my soul. I remember screaming, yelling, crying, and even carving hateful slogans into the wooden base of my race car track, all because I was hurting. I hated the hate and I was angry about the anger. In short, I understand Max.
Once he reaches the island, Max meets a number of wild beasts. Suddenly an incredible tension enters the film. I spent much of the film wondering what these monsters might do to the little sojourner. However, Max befriends the wild things and the adventure really begins.
It seems the monsters represent much of what is going on inside of Max. In fact, the monster to which Max best relates is one with an anger issue (Carol). The other wild things have different personalities, all of which could be allegorically linked to the world from which he came. In order to save himself, Max tries to become king over the wild things. The creatures respond with glee because, after all, they long to be held in check.
Max does everything to help his new friends. He dances, makes great claims about his kingly power, and even tries to encourage playtime so they can blow off some steam. Even so, the reign of Max the Great does not last for long. The monsters find out that their king is "just one of them" (an interesting observation) and even more tension fills the film. Max cannot control the monsters. Consequently, the wild things all but abandon Max and return to a familiar sense of despair.
What happens next changes the nature of Max's interactions with the wild things. Max starts to come clean about his true identity. He begins to see the damage his feigned reign has caused and starts listening to more of what the monsters are saying. Max begins to realize just how similar the monsters are to himself. Despite his attempts to mend, however, Max ultimately decides it would be better to leave the island. When he does, the monsters are actually sad to see him go.
The best thing that happened to Max, and to the wild things for that matter, was honesty. As an outsider on the island, Max had two options: (1) Reshape himself to be whatever he wanted or (2) face the reality of his world and the wild things'. When Max finally embraced the latter, love was born. No longer could he or the wild things hide, instead they had to accept one another exactly as they were. In fact, Max gave the divisive and distraught creatures with more love than they had ever known. And when migrant Max returns to his homeland, he hurries home to embrace the family he left in hate. Love wins.
What can children of divorce learn from Wild Things? Simply put, I cannot reign over the monster(s) inside of me. Try as I might to put on a show, do my best impression of powerful governing, or recreate myself, I am still me. I know that sounds a bit cliché, but sooner or later we all must face the mean ugliness inside. Once we can admit our despair, the question then becomes: "Am I willing to allow love that is waiting on the outside to come in?"
For a very long time I believed I was allowing true love into my world. I sought love in the club/bar scene, in relationships, and even in the dark world of pornography. The love I found, or I thought I had found anyhow, only pacified my anger and hid my hurt. Furthermore, it all depended upon my efforts to receive love. "If only I can look good enough, be funny enough, or spend more time online, then I will know the love and intimacy I crave." The love I was pursuing was completely conditional and it had nothing to do with the real me.
True love requires honesty, exposure, and unconditional acceptance. This, my patient readers, is the gospel of Jesus. The second I start performing to receive love or painting my face to become appear more pleasing, I am outside of the gospel's radical love. Jesus allows us to be exposed in the light so we can live and love in freedom. He is not safe because he speaks the truth, but he is good because his love is divine. My prayer for you is that you would remain comfortably exposed in the person of Jesus, daily seeking to rest in his love. Join me in the struggle to believe that Jesus loves us and the wild things within.