Children's book published by Maurice Sendak in 1963. First book in the trilogy including: "In The Night Kitchen" and "Outside Over There". Mandatory reading for children everywhere right along with Dr. Seuss.

The book was originally going to be titled Where the Horses Are, but Sendak had a problem... he couldn't draw horses. After trying to replace them with all kinds of different animals, he finally dropped the horses and settled on "things," which were based on the hairy-nosed, snaggle-toothed Brooklyn relatives he hated as a child.

Where the Wild Things Are was banned when it was first published in 1967. It then went on to win dozens of awards. Why, you ask? Although the book has been extensively discussed, some of the most interesting arguments are the psychoanalytical responses to the book.

According to psychoanalytic theory, the book clearly details Max's process of learning to master his emotions. Freud stated that children learn to understand and grow through projecting emotions and situations onto external objects or fantasies, in dreams or in play. By understanding the process symbolically, they can understand it as it applies to everyday use. Max projects his aggression into a vision of the "Wild Things". He then "tames" (masters) them, and returns to the "real world."

The protagonist in the book, Max, is a very naughty child. He nails a sheet into the wall to make a tent, chases his dog with a fork, and screams at his mother that he will "eat her up". This is a vision of the child that adults, more than children, have difficulty seeing - the child as a raving, craving creature.

When Max is sent to his room with no supper, he sails away to the land of the Wild Things. The journey for "days, months, and almost a year" over the sea represents this journey into the fantasy world. If there is any doubt as to whether the creatures are products of Max's imagination, return to the beginning of the book to see the picture tacked on Max's wall. It is a drawing of one of the creatures, signed "by MaX".

It is also interesting to note how the page layout echoes this process. When we first begin the book, there is a large amount of white space surrounding the text. Gradually, the illustrations become larger and larger, until they overwhelm the entire page. Text is completely eliminated on the double page spread of Max and the Wild Things dancing and celebrating together. However, as Max tames the animals and returns to his home, the illustrations recede to their original size.

And you thought it was such a simple book.

The first glimpse I had of this movie was the small snippet that Spike Jonze allowed me to see - that of the back of a Wild Thing, racing down a hill among the winter trees.

My first response was, if I remember correctly, "Oh, hell no."

That was two parts horror, two parts hope, and three parts disbelief. Disbelief that anyone would have the chutzpah to make this book into a movie. It only has around ten sentences in the whole thing, for God's sake!

But yes, Spike Jonze has attempted if not the impossible, the certainly very very hard and fraught with peril.

And he's succeeded.

By the time King Max shouts "LET THE WILD RUMPUS START!" you'll be sold, if you were the kind of kid that demanded ever more readings of this book, perhaps even to the point of exasperation of your parents. The movie is, and let me be clear here, not for all kids. It's been made for two kinds of kids. First, it's made for the kids still living secretly inside the adults who, when they were small, read this book with their parents over and over.

And it's made for the kids they've all been having the past fifteen or twenty years; the kids who were brought up not so much on Rowling and Twilight but on Seuss and Sendak and Silverstein.

The filmmakers have managed to capture, with remarkably little damage, the concept of Kid Logic. Things happen in the movie, and things are reasoned out by the characters in the movie in a fashion which will be entirely incomprehensible to adults who don't have one of those kids inside them. The kids will understand it intuitively, after all, because it's right.

At the end of the day, though, a bit of a let down happened to me. I realized that Jonze & Co. had undertaken such a suicide mission making this movie, that when they against all odds managed to pull it off without screwing anything up, without disrespecting the source material, without changing the essence of the story despite now having lines for people to read and ninety-plus minutes of time to fill with what was a 26-page picture book - when they'd pulled off that herculean task, there wasn't much left over to make it an awesome movie.

It's an unbelievable accomplishment.

But that's not always the same as 'awesome.'

I respect it. I'm just not sure how much I enjoyed it at anything other than the technical appreciation level.

And of such things, fun nights at the movies are not usually made.

I would recommend it, though - because anyone who loved this story needs to see the unbelievable thing that was done with it - and who knows; maybe, unlike me, you'll manage to effortlessly see past the accomplishment and watch the movie. I suspect that if you can do that, and do do that, the movie itself is, indeed, awesome.

Maybe on a later viewing, for me.

Your trusted and self-righteous friend Behr is no stranger to the controversy surrounding the latest Hollywood blockbuster, Where The Wild Things Are and so since friend Behr likes to make sure he sees all sides of an issue before making an informed and correct decision about it, he (meaning friend Behr) went to the movies tonight with his associates to see for himself if this film was really inappropriate for children.

Decisions like this one are tough to come by, as I know namby pamby liberals don't like their children to see any films that might scare them or cause them to wet their pants. I remember when I was very young, not even twenty-five years of age, and my mother took me to see The Exorcist and your friend Behr wet his pants and cried during the film. The intensity of Where The Wild Things Are isn't anything like that of The Exorcist, but making the comparison in this way allows me to make ample use of the emphasis tags which is good fun.

My good and trusted friend Chopper went with me to see this film at the state of the art David Hasselhoff Memorial Theatre Complex in downtown Baltimore. It was much nicer and contained much more chrome than the lousy theatre down the street from my house that is overrun with hippies and communists and shows a lot of films in languages other than English with annoying subtitles that are hard to read when there are so many people who walk around during these movies. I really wish someone would teach them the skill of sitting still before someone like Chopper "busts a cap in their ass" as he likes to say when he is lit up on the amphetemines he gobbles by the handful all day long.

The first thing I noticed, aside from the nice looking chrome bannisters and signage, when I walked into this new theatre was the low-cut uniform tops on the female ushers. Now if I may be frank, your good friend Behr likes this kind of thing, especially when the female usher is working in an air conditioned theatre where the air conditioning is turned up really high so as to make it very cold as breasts love to be stared at when they are cold. And what about those nipples, eh? I know you are with me there, but is this the kind of thing you want your children exposed to? No one, and I mean no one, should have any physical or visual contact with breasts until they are at least thirteen years of age and then I approve of free for alls. Children should not be exposed to air chilled breasts. It is simply wrong. And so I had to make a note of this. One strike against Where The Wild Things Are on these grounds. Not a good start.

After we sat down in the theatre I noticed a strange aroma in the air around me, sort of like a funky cigar. I know that smoking is no longer allowed in theatres thanks to Kenyan strongman Barack Obama's invasive laws, so something had to be afoot. Two teenagers sitting in the row in front of us were passing a marijuana cigarette back and forth. Chopper was quick to join in, asking them to pass it back to him, and offered me a taste, which I refused because marijuana is illegal. Chopper and the young ones went on to inform me that "you need to get high to enjoy this movie, friend Behr." As you might imagine, this was strike two.

I waited patiently for the previews, as I knew there weren't any naked ladies in this film and hoped to fill that need through the previews, when I looked over to see two men on the other side of the theatre making out. They were both men! They were making out! In a movie theatre showing a film that may or may not be appropriate for children! I stared at them, hoping they would take the hint and stop, but then they yelled across the theatre at me, "This was our favorite book growing up!" Assuming they meant the movie (as they didn't appear to have brought any books into the theatre) I had to put a third strike on the movie. And you know what they say, three strikes and you're out.

And so, without any question, your friend Behr can tell you that the film Where The Wild Things Are is inappropriate for children and you should keep your children away from it. Chopper seemed to really enjoy the movie after smoking his wacky weed, and so did his new friends, but your friend Behr just stared at the screen speechless.

I glazed over some of the reviews before going to this movie and many described it as “pseudo philosophical”. I can certainly see where they are coming from but I don’t necessarily agree with tagging anything as “pseudo philosophical”. There are certainly many more movies that one can describe as more philosophical, or more complicated, than Where the Wild Things Are. However, this is a movie that can be appreciated by both a child and an adult.

So here is your official spoiler warning.
Read on if you wish.

The movie started with a boy chasing a dog while dressed in a wolf suit, just absolutely raising hell. The first thing I think is, “What a freakin’ brat!”, but then I thought “Wait, was I that bad at his age?”. The movie continues on and this same boy, Max, is playing in a snow fort, obviously amassing an arsenal of snowballs to pelt someone with. That someone turns out to be a group of someones, his sister and a pack of teenagers. Max and the pack engage in a friendly snowball fight with the end result of Max’s snow fort being utterly demolished. Of course, Max is absolutely crushed. He looks to his sister for comfort who promptly looks away. Max’s sorrow is replaced by anger and he proceeds to destroying his sister’s room, including a keepsake highschool wooden love thing that her boyfriend gave her.

Max’s mom is introduced shortly afterward. She is single and I assume Max’s dad passed away or they are divorced. I am guessing he passed away but my mind was drifting in and out during this movie so I missed a few details. Either way, she has a boyfriend and they kiss and whisper sweet-nothings to each other. Max is the witness to one of these exchanges which arguably sets him into a fit of unruliness (Oedipus complex?). Next comes my wife and I’s favorite line from the movie as Max follows his mom into the kitchen and stands up on the counter, shouting “Feed me, woman!”. His mom scolds him which further antagonizes his mood ultimately ending with him biting his mom on the shoulder and running out the door into the night (in his wolf suit).

Max runs into a wooded area and ends up going into a deep imaginative bout where he finds himself on an island full of monsters. The monsters are busying themselves arguing between each other and destroying what looks like big wooden circles but ended up being their homes. Max confronts the monsters and befriends them by saying he was a great king and he has the power to prevent sadness (a sadness shield, haha). The monsters take kindly to Max and decide not to eat him. They dub him King.

And so the stage is set for Max and the monsters. Let the wild rumpus start! The first thing they do is celebrate the dubbing of a new King and go on a complete rampage, destroying and uprooting trees and whatever else is in their way. They end the night with an enormous dog pile and fall asleep together. This is probably the point in which I started reflecting hard on my childhood. I had completely forgotten about dog piles. I guess it goes to say how long its been since I’ve interacted with children.

Max and the monsters continue on with doing things only a child would do and the King begins to develop relationships with the monsters. At one point Carol takes Max along a walk throughout the island and they find themselves in a desert. Carol describes the desert as “what things are turning into”, which interestingly enough literally happens later in the movie when Carol, in a fit of rage, rips the arm off of the chicken guy, or the cockatiel guy according to my wife. The chicken’s empty arm socket then begins spewing sand. Ah, the symbolism.

Everything is initially wonderful and all the monsters seem to be getting along. The honeymoon lasts for about a day. The thing with children is they do things without knowing the consequences of their actions and that becomes very evident in this movie. They engage in dirt clod fights and build a fort, be it a pretty impressive one, that “will cut the brains out of anyone we don’t want here”. Many of their activities, well all of them, end in someone getting hurt, be it physically or emotionally, the ultimate climax occurring when Carol turns on Max and chases him (so Carol is Max’s personal demon) into the woods threatening to eat him. Certainly a very tragic experience for Max, though necessary for him to come to terms with his behavior and conquer his inner demons.

There’s a basic synopsis of the movie and I am quickly realizing how long this post is getting. I’ve decided to cut it short, especially since the average attention span these days is a three minute YouTube video. There are certainly many more things I could of hit on, including Carol and KW’s relationship and the point where Max, the King, is told that he should never talk back to any of the monsters. He is sharply reminded that it is his role, as the king, not to bicker and basically, not to be a child.

The overall theme of the movie as I saw it was that we quickly forget what it means to be a child. I, for one, remember a time without responsibility and think how amazing it was. However, as we grow older we tend to forget the pain that was associated with growing up. Certainly Max and the monsters portray this as they learn the consequences of their actions. It really isn’t ok to throw dirt clods at each other, especially when it hurts someone. So that’s the overall theme, but many more questions can be asked.

The monsters respresent all the different character facets of Max's personality, with Carol being the strongest and most familiar. The movie is a beautiful representation of the great struggle of growing up and draws a line between the differences of a child and an adult. As we grow older we become more self-reflective and gain the ability to recogize the traits of our personality, as least some of us do. By recognizing these traits, or character facets, we can learn to control them and nurish the good traits of our personality.

Another interesting thing is the role Max’s father plays. He wasn’t there, but we see he was involved in Max’s life at some point as Max received a globe from him as a gift with the inscription, “Max, this world is all yours.” Well, something along those lines if my memory is serving me correctly. I had assumed earlier that his father either passed away or they went through a divorce, but either way, Max has lost his father and his mother lost her other half. So in the beginning of Max’s life he had a father and his mother had another counterpart that helped raise Max and guide him through life. Now that the counterpart is gone, Max has lost his father and his mother has lost a person who helped guide Max and his emotions as he is growing up. He has gone from two people sharing the role of teaching him how to control his demons to one person, which is his mom who is busy with work and busy trying to establish another relationship. So Max has issues. These issues then can arguably be due to the loss of his father in his life.

We learn things conditionally. What does it mean when we call something red? As a scientist I would describe red as a certain wavelength that our eyeballs absorb and translate into signals which our brain then interprets. That is something I have learned over the course of my lifetime by attending science courses. As a child, how do I learn what makes red, red? If I were to teach a child what red means, I would fail if I just showed them a bunch of red pens. The child would associate pens with the color red. Instead, I would show the child many different objects that are red, including a balloon, and a pen, and a barn, and a car. This sets conditions in the child’s mind that all these objects have something in common, and that something is what we call red. So throughout life and as we are growing up, we learn things conditionally. I would stretch this even farther to say that we learn to control our behavior conditionally with the help of our family and when our family is broken, our behavior is turned loose without direction. So is the woe of Max’s life and so he must learn on his own, through his imaginative bout or epiphany, that every action has its consequence.

It seems that Max and the monsters treat uncertainty with destruction. The first example being when Max felt betrayed by his sister. His first initial reaction was anger and the result of that anger was destruction, the victim being his sister’s mushy love wooden thing. This behavior is also very evident in Max’s monster counterpart, Carol, who destroys things when he is angry. Carol is certainly Max’s most familiar demon. The other monsters are not as destructive, at least not as destructive as Carol(Carol was destroying their own homes). For example, there was a quiet, scary looking monster, with gray fur who flopped over when he was being pelted with dirt clods. He also never said anything during the entire movie (Max's quiet strength). All the monsters had their own way of dealing with uncertainty and this one in particular did nothing. So this mixture of monsters were Max’s demons, the demons we learn to control as we grow up (Are we born inherently evil?). As an evolutionary biologist (which I most certainly am not), how would I describe the difference between an animal and a human in this context? Certainly an animal indulges in carnal instinct and acts in a basic behavioral way, that behavior strongly influenced by predator versus prey. A human, as I understand, is an animal, but what makes us different is our ability to control our basic animal instincts, or our demons. The human mind has evolved conditionally to see the consequences of its own actions and the result of following our basic instinct. To Max and the monsters, this result was always negative. So is the ability to control this behavior what makes us human?

As I stated earlier, some described Where the Wild Things Are as a ‘pseudo philosophical’ movie and again I contend that nothing is ‘pseudo philosophical’ though I agree that it isn’t as deep as other movies. If I had to relate it to a classic novel, I'd say its a watered down version of The Catcher in the Rye. I give it a lot of credit however that it can reach a very broad audience and adapting this film from the original picture book was a feat in itself. It was visually stunning and had some good quality humor and if you’re wondering what the chicken did about his arm, he replaced it with a stick.

For this year's horror quest, as usual, I have been going afield, wondering just what falls under the umbrella of "horror". One question I asked myself is: what is the first time we encounter "horror"? And for me, the answer would probably be Maurice Sendak's 1963 picture book, "Where the Wild Things Are".

The obvious caveat to this is that this is a thirty-six page long children's book, and that the fear is framed in such a way that we are assured, almost as soon as we read it, that the Wild Things are not too harmful. Max silences them and conquers them with a stare. But this is a book meant to be read to children as young as three or four, and meant to be read by children as young as four or five. Even as an adult, the figures are grotesque and disturbing, contorted in a way that is unsettling for reasons that are hard to explain. We probably don't remember what it was like the first time we were shown the book as children. And it is even harder to imagine what this book was like to the first children exposed to it, suddenly facing surrealistic monsters and time dilation and cannibalism.

The book obviously has some very Freudian background. Max, like the intended audience, is right at the age where he is learning to control his emotions, and to consider others. Interestingly, his mother is only mentioned, not seen, and other people are never shown. Max is living in his own world, and it is the "Wild Things" that are his first social contact. The Freudian impact of his statement to his mother "I'LL EAT YOU UP" doesn't need to be explicated. There are a lot of undertones in a book that is only thirty six pages long.

But the part of this book that struck me as most importance in discussing it as a work of horror is the idea of integration. Throughout its history, and depending on the era and the creator, horror has been used to either enforce or deconstruct prevailing moralities. This book, both because of the age group it was written for, and the time it was written, shows a straight-forward tale of integration. Max learns to master his urges and returns to society. I also found it very interesting that this book came out in 1963, presumably shortly before the Kennedy Assassination, and the ending of the era of optimistic integration in American culture. Like another, quite different work from the same era, the book comes from a brief window in America culture where the frightening and surreal could be presented, but just as quickly be integrated.

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