I guess I was somehow deprived as a child. I really liked to read when I was young, but somehow I don’t recall having ever read Where The Wild Things Are. Word on the street is that this is a staple for a healthy childhood, but I missed the boat on that one. In order to make up for this lacking in my youth, I watched the movie version of Where The Wild Things Are with my sister the other night, and I thought it would be a good idea to share a few thoughts about it. So if you’re especially interested in the plot of the movie (of which there really wasn’t much), you may not want to read on because I might spoil it for you.
From what my sister told me, the basic plot of the book is that this kid Max runs away and ends up in this land where the Wild Things live, which are a bunch of gargantuan monsters that are kind of scary but still nice enough. The Wild Things promptly make Max their king, and the whole gang runs around like crazy through the night until Max gets hungry and goes home. Now, it’s difficult to make a movie with that storyline that lasts longer than about twelve minutes, so there is some expansion in the movie.
In the movie, Max is basically an obnoxious brat that whines all the time and runs around in footie-pajamas, and worst of all, he’s a biter. Seriously, he bites his mom in the shoulder. When he gets to where all the Wild Things are, they do in fact make him king, and his first item of business is to declare a wild rumpus, and as in the book, they all spend the night running around and destroying trees (the Wild Things are not very eco-friendly). The rest of the movie shows how Max attempts to rule the Wild Things and make everyone get along.
First off, this movie was freakin’ weird. The primary lesson learned is that hallucinogenic drugs are not a good way to go. I spent a good deal of the movie laughing because the things they showed just looked so crazy; I’m not even sure how to explain it. For a long time I sat there thinking, “What the heck is this?! Am I watching a movie or at a rave?” But somehow, by the end of the movie, it had gripped me a little, and I was a little sad to see Max’s boat sail off while the Wild Things waved from the sandy shore. And that’s coming from someone without a heart.
And in fact, there are lessons to learn from Where The Wild Things Are. After the wild rumpus, Max and the Wild Things all begin dog-piling each other, and once they’re all in a giant heap, the all fall asleep. And that’s how they sleep, all tangled up in one another. It looked pretty comfy for Max, actually. The next day, the group begins planning an ideal fortress that they will build, and Max says that when the fortress is completed, “We’ll take care of each other and we’ll all sleep together in a real pile.”
Sleeping in a real pile. That’s the Wild Things’ goal. That’s how they define fellowship and relational security. When all is well between them, they sleep in a pile. But things do not remain good for long. They begin to become jealous of one another, they become suspicious of each other, and they stuff their own feelings. And before long, they’re not sleeping in a pile. They’re sleeping spaced out from one another on the ground. They don’t talk with one another, and they don’t all say “Good night” to each other as they fall asleep.
There are a lot of problems in the world, but I think that the most prevalent are relational issues. For many people, the deepest hurts and the greatest frustrations emerge out of problems with family or friends or spouses. We want so much for our piles to be secure. We want to experience love and understanding and peace and intimacy. But so often, that state is out of reach. This is what Where The Wild Things Are touches on. It’s a movie about how relationships can get so out of whack when we allow ourselves to get in the way of harmony.
That’s the problem for Max. As king, it’s his duty to reconcile the Wild Things into a pile, to repair the relational damage. He tries a few things, his most drastic measure being to get everyone to throw clods of dirt at each other to release their frustrations. But in the end, all of his strategies basically fail. Since it’s a kids’ movie, one would expect everything to pan out in the end, but in this one, that isn’t how it works. When Max leaves the Wild Things, circumstances are pretty much the same as when he got there. He proves to be unable to fix all of their problems. All his plans and methods fall short.
We would all like to be able to fix everything, but I’m not sure that we are able to solve all of the relational problems in the world by ourselves. We can do a lot as far as our own attitudes and behaviors are concerned, but we can’t make people get along. If we think we’re smart enough to create a social utopia, we’ll realize that, like Max, we just can’t do it. The truth is that there will always be problems on this side of heaven, and our piles will often be dismantled. I don’t know how to make everyone love each other and get along, but I do know that it won’t be like that forever. One day everything will in fact be perfect; our piles will be reconciled and the hurt and frustration that we experience now will be healed. And that’s something to look forward to, I think.
In the meantime, it’s important for us to enjoy and take advantage of the times when our piles are right, those times that we are with those we care about and can delight in one another. The other day my roommate Charlie and I went to Manhattan to visit our friend Rachel. Charlie and Rachel are two of my oldest friends—I’ve known them each for about 13 years as we grew up in the same church. And last night we ate Chili’s and watched a movie and played cards, and it was fantastic. It’s important that we make the most of times like those, because you’re never sure how many of them might be left. I wrote a post last year that compared our social circles to 15-passenger vans in which people move around in proximity to us. In a couple months, my van is going to be completely shaken up like a game of Boggle. Most of the people I entered Ozark with as a freshman will be graduating and going all over the country. With that harrowing fact in mind, I (and perhaps you) need to recognize that moments in piles are limited, so we’d better enjoy them while we can.
And what better way to enjoy time with friends than by cheering on your Michigan State Spartans when they play in the Final Four next weekend? At least that’s what I’ll be doing, so if anyone wants to pick up a pizza and join me while I eat said pizza, you are more than welcome.