Where The Wild Things Are: inside the meaning of the movie

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This article reveals the explained plot and the detailed events in Spike Jonze’s movie Where The Wild Things Are, revealing its meaning, symbols and storyline. We recommend you to read it only after watching the movie, and not before, in order to preserve the pleasure of the first vision.

Where The Wild Things Are is a 2009 film by Spike Jonze, based on a very famous 1963 children’s book written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. The book and the film basically tell the same story, but while the book is short and compact, the film adds a series of evolutions and situations introduced by the director, which take on an autonomous meaning.

In this article we will walk together the plot of the film, the differences with the book and the meaning behind the events shown.

The plot

The story of the book is simple and straightforward: Max, a child in a wolf costume, gets carried away by enthusiasm by chasing the dog around the house. His mother calls him a “wild thing”, he replies that he will eat her up and is punished: he has to go to her room without supper. The child will then imagine a world that develops in his room, from which he will take a boat for a long journey, to a distant place where he will meet real wild monsters, illustrated in the book by the author himself. He will be declared king by the monsters and they will start a wild romp. At some point, Max will feel homesick, goes back home and finds the hot supper at home, waiting for him.

Spike Jonze’s film introduces a number of new elements, both in the situation before the imaginary world, and when Max is in the world of wild creatures: at the beginning Max lives in a family situation in which he feels not enough listened to, with his older sister and the mother who seem to pursue their interests, without worrying too much about the needs and demands of the child. But when Max arrives in the land of wild things, we discover that his way of being king, guided by childish enthusiasm and imagination, generates joy and happiness, true, but it also has its limits when conflicts emerge, both between monsters and between him and the monsters themselves. In the final part of the film the monsters will find themselves doubting that he is a good king, returning to a situation of self-managed chaos.

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The meaning of Where The Wild Things Are explained

The book tells the story of a child who is punished, who creates his own world in which he feels loved as he would like, only to discover that he wants to return to the family context, being welcomed again warmly. The themes underlying the book are therefore the concept of punishment (how legitimate it is or not), that of being loved (the different ways in which one is loved, and whether severity and rules really mean being less loved or not) and the way to manage the energy and the irrepressible enthusiasm of being a child.

The film extends these kinds of themes with new contributions made by the director. Also in the film, Max finds himself wishing to be loved as he would like, to have the attention he needs, and finds in the wild things a community that elects him as king, demonstrating that they love him and believe in him. The wild creatures need someone to guide them, and that makes Max feel important. According to some, the wild creatures in the film represent Max’s emotions, and the story thus takes the form of the process in which the child learns to manage his emotions, but in reality the film is even more complex than that. Wild creatures are uncontrollable and spontaneous beings just like Max’s enthusiasms and feelings are. In the position of king, however, Max finds himself discovering the need to manage what is spontaneously irrepressible. In this way the child discovers why it becomes necessary to be an adult.

The meaning of the film Where The Wild Things Are is therefore in this process of discovery by the child: following the enthusiasm means enhancing the joy and pleasure of living in the moment, but it does not help when it is necessary to manage excesses, conflicts, fears. What happens in the world of the wild things is that natural frictions arise between individuals, doubts, fears, overflowing behaviors, and in the face of those situations Max discovers that he does not have the tools (typical of adulthood) to contain and manage them: he just keeps adopting his child instincts, and when he sees that it’s not effective, he withdraws into himself by moving away. In that imagined world, therefore, Max learns the need to go towards the adult stage, as a way to balance situations of discomfort when the child’s enthusiasm does not work.

The film therefore focuses less on the concept of punishment (Max actually moves away spontaneously) and more on the balance between being a child and being an adult. In this confrontation between the two sides, Max learns the importance of both.