Mischief. Of all kinds. Yelling. Running. Hitting. Finally:
“Lucas. Lucas! LUCAS! TIME OUT!!! NOW! NOW!”
We forget what childhood is really like. Living in a world of paradoxes: the desire of chaos and the need for order. Everything is small and huge. Everything is cool and everything is stupid. Joys and sorrows wrestle for control, one atop the other, sometimes splitting the same moment, controlling and defining you like some bipolar puppeteer. Biology and chemistry are treacherous, turning friends and brothers and sisters against you. And you are as powerless as a lost toy boat, swept down a dark river into a vast ocean, deep and unknown.
The kids run down the field, a stampeding herd, a rolling tangle of blue shirts, red shirts, and shinguards. Lucas somehow emerges from the mass with the ball at his feet and there’s nothing between him and the goal but wet grass. He shoots. He scores. He leaps. You leap. It’s a moment, and you wistfully, sadly, think that he’s too young to know what that means. The kids run down the field, a stampeding herd, a rolling tangle of blue shirts, red shirts, and shinguards. A kid emerges from the mass with the ball at his feet and there’s nothing between that kid and the goal except Lucas, who runs at the kid, kicks at the ball…and misses. The kid shoots. He scores. Lucas slumps. You slump. It’s another moment. There’ll be plenty of those as well.
But. If you could build a place for you, and only you, and in that place you surrounded yourself with all sorts of versions of you, and only you…of course you would. You go through childhood alone in your head. That wonderfully fulminating brain that kids possess is really only knowable to them. It drives them to build pillow forts that will keep out everything and everyone. It makes them believe that sometimes the best companions are their toys, toys that can’t talk back, can’t tell them that they need to eat their broccoli, or that they shouldn’t throw dirt clods because someone might lose an eye. If you could build a place and be a king, and keep your subjects safe from harm and happy, always happy, and those subjects were you, of course you’d build it. Would you ever want to leave?
“I don’t WANT a Time Out! I wanna be a good boy! I’ll be a good boy!” “You shoulda thought of that before you pitched a fit. Sit. Down.” Sometimes you think that you can’t control him any more than you can control the weather. Fronts collide and spiral together and tornados erupt and that’s how it happens with a five year old. “I wanna be a good boy!” Of course he does. And he mostly is. But sometimes he simply can’t Be A Good Boy. That chaotic, wild mind of his. It’s gonna do what it does.
What you really want is to be The Owner of This World. You eat, sleep, wake up, read, play, color, live at the whim of others. It’s bedtime. Too much TV is bad for you. That’ll give you a stomachache. It’s too hot/cold/wet/dark. It’s too dangerous. This world contains Universes and they’re all kept just out of reach, or doled out in small samples. You want to roar your terrible roar because that’s all you can do. And most of the time roaring is not allowed. “Shh. Use your Restaurant Voice.”
Sunday morning and I sit down to write a review of Where The Wild Things Are. Lucas is complaining to Beth about Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs: “The prince didn’t fight.” The Time Outs have subsided for now; of course there will be more, and of course there will be contrition and hugs and reassurance. The desire for Chaos, the comfort of Order. I think about childhood monsters – beasts we’ve known all of our lives and are now introducing to our kids – stepping off the page and onto the screen. And they are fine – more than fine, they are alive and as real as that particular dream you had, the one that seems to be unspooling even as you rub the sleep from your eyes. I think about my kid and I think about me, when I was a kid. I think about all of the things I could tell you about this movie (Spike Jonze’s eye-filling, sometimes disorienting use of sunsets and sunrises alone could fill up a page). But I will tell you just this: more than any film I’ve seen about what it’s like to be a child, this one gets it.
UPDATE: So CNN.com called me today to get my take on the film, and if it’s a good “kid’s movie”. Here’s the article. I’ve got more to say on Eggers and Jonze’s take on the book; look for my follow-up post tomorrow.