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Where the Wild Things Scar

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"Wild Things" is perhaps the most unusual and most visceral depiction of our emotional journey that has ever made it to the screen.

Where the wild things are

Dr. Wendy Walsh: There's a line early on in Spike Jonze's brilliant "Where the Wild Things Are" that sums up the premise of the entire movie. Angry, confused, and neglected 7-year-old Max is reciting a story about vampires to his overwhelmed single mother. "The vampire bites off the top of a building and loses his teeth. Another vampire says, 'Why are you crying? Those are your baby teeth.' And he says, 'No they're not. They're my adult teeth.'"

Not two scenes later, Max, in a fit of rage, actually bites his own mother and runs, terrified, into the wilds of his own psyche, meeting his internal demons of rage, self-criticism, fear, shame, and self-destruction face-to-face, all in the form of adorable, animated monsters. Eventually they also show him hope and love. Only when he loses his crown as head of the wild things does he help them (him) integrate and self-regulate, so he can sail back into his conscious world, ready to cut his adult teeth.

"Wild Things" is perhaps the most unusual and most visceral depiction of our emotional journey that has ever made it to the screen. We all walk with wild things inside of us. And we flirt with the fear that they have the power to consume us. Psychologists sometimes say that we all have a psychotic core, a deep internal state of madness that most of us learn to tame. It is only a tiny percentage of humans who are overtly psychotic -- however, psychotic feelings are pieces of many emotional states and mental disorders.

I took my 6-year-old to "Where the Wild Things Are" when it opened the other day, thinking because it was based on the classic children's book, that it would be a movie for children. While I don't think the film is inappropriate for children over the age of five, I do think that adults will get far more out of it than kids. It has many levels of understanding, and there is clearly something for everyone.

My own child has been prone to uncontrollable tantrums since she was born. She's kicked it now. It's been a couple weeks (says the hopeful junkie's mother). She and I watched Max's rage, through his own eyes, which was an understandable outcome of the trauma he was experiencing. And then he felt the double injury -- punishment for the destruction he caused. I hugged my own little Wild Thing and asked her if that's what it feels like to be stuck in a tantrum. She did not take her eyes off Max as she whispered, "Yep. Sort of like that."

The metaphor about baby teeth and adult teeth was so poignant to me. While we may physically grow out of childhood, we do not grow out of our feelings. They morph into adult behaviors and dysfunctions and quietly keep us from trusting each other, trusting love, and living to our fullest potential. We would all do well to have a chat with our wild things, and like Max, learn to tame them, rather than ignore them.

next: Teen Accused of Planning Columbine-Like Attack
5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Jill October 21, 2009, 6:59 AM

You hit the nail on the head! I felt the same way about this movie! I loved it- and at the end of the movie, I had to compose myself to leave the theater!

Big Mama October 21, 2009, 8:54 AM

As adults, we can view this movie, and see the underlying message. I took my 7 and 8 year old boys, and, in the words of my 7 year old it was, “sad, scary, gross and only kinda funny mama.”

Sigh. I appreciated the message of the movie, but other than that, not much else.

Barbara October 21, 2009, 10:52 AM

this is a must read…. turns out that the movie is not just a muppet movie after all but a psycho-spiritual journey.
I want very much to see this with you. It is at the theatre today, and will not be in town for long.

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