The King of the World

Where the Wild Things are (2009)

What a wonderful adventure is to be a kid, all the opportunities that we have as children to create our playgrounds and the purpose of our games, even if we cannot control consciously everything that comes out from our imagination still, the freedom for creation is great. Where The Wild Things Are by Spike Jonze is a film that shows the ability of moulding our own realities in a very imaginative way, even if the resources or the quality of our worlds seem extraordinary they can still be felt as authentic. This story offers a possibility of discovering our own wild side by travelling into a world of our own making. Max is a 9 year old boy who has a wild character, after different problems with his family, he runs away and sails across the sea until landing in a beach where he founds a group of ‘Wild Creatures’ that threaten to eat him. After declaring himself a King, he promises that he would solve all of their problems and help them to be happy. The Wild Things decide to accept him and make him their King. Max’s extraordinary new world is a projection of his own desires and inner conflicts. By interacting with these new friends, he is able to reflect about his problems and come to a solution. If this process of self-knowledge could be applied for any situation, for any person, wouldn’t be interesting what we may find about ourselves by resolving our problems through the creation of several realities, knowing that perhaps, many of the issues or solutions that we have may arise in a deep and subconscious way. I will attempt to explain through different examples based in this film, whether Max‘s case could be taken as a way of solving our problems or not and the reasons for it.


Since the first moments in the film Max is set as a wild personage, when he plays with his dog, the manner of his playing is rather savage and strong however, the dog seems to go along with the game, responding likewise. In a later scene, Max tries to play with his sister but she ignores him, so he attacks her and her friends with snowballs, they are older than him, so their reply is rather harsh and she does nothing about it. Finally, his relationship with his mother is between sweet and scarce, she is a single mother who works very hard and yet, she tries to put attention to him. In this three cases there are attitudes or situations that are recurrent and give us a clue of what are Max’s main issues and characteristics. There is a substantial sense of loneliness, in the past cases Max is either playing on his own or with the dog, but seems to be alone in the house. His mother tries to be with him but the kind of attention she offers doesn’t compensate Max’s fear of being left alone. His volatile energy makes it more difficult for him to have an emphatic familiar intercourse. Finally, his dad doesn’t live with them which is a precedent of a rupture in the family.


Almost as a reasonable consequence there is a fear of abandonment, in one of the scenes Max tells a story to his mother about a vampire who losses his teeth and because of that, he stops being a vampire and is left alone by his group; in another moment, after the nasty incident with Claire’s friends, he runs into the house and wrecks a few things of his sister and a gift that he gave her, reflecting that even if he loves her, he felt hurt by Claire’s indifference; and when his mother invites a friend and ignores Max’s invitation to play, he displays a proof of his wild character which generates an important fight between them. Hence, he finds a way to substitute the fear through his active imagination, which makes understandable his predisposition to create an alternate world where he is a king and everyone wants to be with him. In a situation where, as a child, you feel you have a family that is falling apart or changing fast and leaving you behind, is perhaps evident to use the resource of your imagination and create those who can understand you, value you and desire to be with you, the reflection of your subconscious becomes evident.


When Max goes through the two worlds in which he will face himself, he doesn’t differentiate one as real and the other as imaginary, he treats both worlds with the same attitude. Even if the world of the Wild Things is new, he faces it with the same strength and courage. It is night time when he lands to this new place and he only sees the shadows of the creatures, one of them is fiercely destroying his surroundings. After listening to what the latter was saying he makes himself present in the same way his counterpart behaved, by running, yelling and destroying. It is common that we, as social beings, look for groups that have characteristics like ours, so we can have someone to talk to, interact with and that can understand us, and what is more important, the risk of rejection is less and the possibilities of acceptance are more. The way we act in front of other people, is supposed to be a reflection of who we are and therefore, a first bridge for connection. Some people say that the way we treat others is the way we will be treated, that applies effectively to a situation in which you want to attract that which is similar or coherent with yourself. The creatures in that place respond and accept Max, both because his first appearance was as powerful as they are –a sense of identification– and because instead of being frightened he told them a story that impressed them for the level of power that he assured to have. Furthermore, Max and the creatures had something else in common, the desire to be accepted, happy and loved.


The reality of Max’s two worlds is not based in the existence of his surroundings, but in his perspective of his own existence and how he see others. The interaction that he develops in this new world can be compared with the one that he had with his family in terms of relationship. For the social characteristics that we have as human beings, he is looking for acceptance and to be part of a united group, the difference is that he seems to be more identified with the wild things’ world. Like in any group, the fear of the ‘other’ or ‘what is different’ can be an obstacle for interaction, but in Max’s case, he wears a wolf costume that works as a reference of his connection –and perhaps even of his own projection– to that world. Many of the situations that arise in this new group are very similar to those that happened to Max and his family. By creating situations in our own worlds that are similar to the events that we face in our waking lives we can convert our wildest dreams into realities.


Making our dream worlds a reality sounds appealing but, why would we go to a world created by us? What happened to Max that made him run so far as to land in a place that no one else could see? Facing our lives head-on or understanding what is happening to us or to the people we care about puts us in a position in which we may have to be vulnerable, to accept our own mistakes and fears, to realise what about us or our actions affect others to be responsible of our own attitudes, and to take decisions about letting other people know how we feel or think. These fears, can be hidden in our behaviour, thoughts, or the things we say in a daily basis, but it is unlikely that we express them easily in front of those people that are important to us and that we don’t want to show our weaknesses to. Max’s eagerness to be part of a family that sticked together was not expressed through words but actions, the manner in which he asked Claire or his mom to play with him talks about his desire, he dared to scream for attention and was disappointed by the results, rather of being followed he was misunderstood and hurt. Rejection or failure is probably one of the hardest feelings for those who are seeking something in their lives, and when we experience them, to try again seems a very far away possibility. The same fear that invades us by holding those feelings within also prevents us from getting rid of them and overcome the situation by expressing ourselves clearly.


Max creates a fort at home where he can play with his animal toys, when he invites her mother to play and receives a negative, he expresses his disappointment through a rage that, far to be understood by his mother –because the message was not clearly expressed– is reprimanded as a bad behaviour, and while they fight, Max bites her and runs away from the house, finding afterwards the way into his new land. In this place he finds a refugee not only from his problems, but also from himself, by projecting who he is and what troubles him upon the life of others, being able –most likely unconsciously– to function as the observer of those problems and see things from outside. Sometimes it is more useful to think things through as if they were separate from us, taking some distance could be a way to clear our sight, rather than to run from the actual problem, to try to manage our confusions in a conscious way, looking at things as objectively as possible is a resource that could clean the path from our prejudices or negative dispositions towards a successful result. Max transfer his  previous knowledge, fears and concerns, likes and dislikes, to both the wild things and the place they live. All the creatures believe themselves subjects of rejection, in their eyes his world is full of conflict, unhappiness and alienation, and they are eager to find someone to show them how to live better, how to be together in harmony. The place is full of rocks, it is a large rough terrain where most of the things are destroyed by them, however, it is the perfect place for Max, a site where he can loose himself, live his wildness –remember he is dressed as a wolf– being accepted and even better, to be the King who decides what to do.


When Max arrives, one of the first things he sees is Carol –the creature that gets closer to him– destroying their homes out of rage because KW, the creature he loves, has left to live with other friends; this situation is similar to what Max lived with his mother when she rejected his invitation to play in the fort, to be with her friend. We may even say that the story with the Wild Things starts exactly where he left off with his family. Max can understand the situation Carol is going through and tries to join him, the result, not only to be acknowledged, but also being accepted into the group, thus one desire is satisfied now, being part of a kind of family. Here, Max finds freedom to play with beings that understand him and enjoy the game the same way he does, their adventures are very tough, they throw things to each other, they run and play in the sand, they jump over each other. Their savage behaviour is right what suits Max. Carol, shares many of his thoughts, feelings and dreams with Max, he takes him to a place where he has built the model of a place where ‘only what you wanted to happen would happen’. Max, on hearing this, decides they should build the place. Here is another example of his desires being transferred into the new world, he already had created a model of a place at home, just as Carol’s, but out of carton, and now this idea of constructing the place and a fort was becoming real for him and his  friends, and here they would not only be protected, but also be happy. The only people they would allow were those who they deemed worth it.


At this point KW had returned to them, the relationship between Carol and her is difficult, even though Carol loves her, his fear of abandonment and temperament, makes it difficult for them to understand each other. KW is very sweet with Max, and shows him the tender side of the group, the beauty of the environment and the affection they feel to one another. Thus, his need of affection is also met, the sense of someone caring about you and even protecting you. In the time he spent with his wild friends, most of the things he wanted became real, he was able to be with them as a family, to feel companionship, to be understood and liked by others. However, as time went by, conflicts appeared. KW took his other friends to the fort, and when Max accepted them Carol went again into a rage that caused more problems, affecting the people he appreciated the most, for he turned off the arm of his best friend Douglas and KW left the group again. Here is set the opportunity for Max to understand his own problems through others’s mirroring. The arousal of conflicts, doesn’t mean that the world you created is wrong, only that as everything that is in you is reflected in this world, also the things you have to learn about yourself will be represented, and here lies the opportunity to resolve them without the overwhelming pressure of looking everything from the inside, but to have space to look at things in a larger scale.


Therefore, the situations that Max experiences in this land are what helps him to understand himself and part of his life in a deeper way. Seeing the conflict between Carol and KW, and recognising the fear of abandonment that posses Carol, might have given him the possibility to understand his own fear of loosing the people he loved. Knowing that KW feels affection for Carol but is also open to others could have been a lesson to him, for in his case, he is also loved, despite the occasional rejections. Her learns this when he talks to KW: ‘What about Carol?’ – ‘He’s Carol. I can like him and still be friends with Bob and Terry’. Max, by being in charge of the group’s happiness, has to look beyond his own interests and listen to the others, getting to know them and trying to understand their situations. When he fails in keeping the harmony between them and turning all their dreams into a reality, making them happy, the truth of him not being a King is revealed. For this situation Carol goes beyond reason and displays such a violent behaviour as to scare Max utterly, finally the latter is able to see himself and his raving moments reflected in Carol’s behaviour.


While Max is hiding from Carol, for he has threatened to eat him, KW founds and hides him. Max is able to listen the argument between KW and Carol about the latter’s misbehaviour. Afterwards, KW explains Max that Carol only makes things ‘harder, and it’s hard enough already’ she also says to him that ‘it’s hard being a family’. The top revelation for Max is finally out, through the eyes of KW he is able to see his mom and understand the struggle she goes through on trying to understand him. He knows now that he has to come back home and fix things with his family. The lesson he learned from his wild friends, came straight-through from his own-self. Before leaving the Wild land, he is able to express his affection for them, he looks for Carol to fix things but doesn’t find him, instead, he finds Carol’s scale-model of the fort, destroyed, presumably by the hands of its creator, then Max leaves only a C inside a love-heart made of pieces of wood as a proof of his affection to Carol. When he is leaving the land, his friends hug him and send him off with affection, Carol comes running after him as he is sailing away from the beach and shows his affection by howling, Max and everyone else follow Carol in a unison chorus, a touch of connection and love between them. All the lessons that Max was able to learn in the land of the Wild, helped him in such a way, that by the end, he was able not only to express his affection for others but also to see a solution for his life and family.


The path to our own growth is something that we have to work from the inside out and the opportunity to do it through our own world puts us in a particular position, for we are inside of us, since this world is created out of our own consciousness, knowledge and experiences; and at the same time our perspective is as if we were somewhere outside. So it is kind of a distance within the approximation to ourselves. The creation of our own worlds is just the mere reflection of what we are not able to recognise at first sight, and it helps us deepen into ourselves, to make a temporary journey through the place where the answers lie. An advantage of this practice, is not only that we are the creators, so we can be sure that anything important for us eventually will be found there, but also that we may have access to it at any time we need. Our imagination is the structure and base of that world, we may acknowledge it as another part of our reality to really identify ourselves with it and live the experience fully, to go into this world not by force, but with consciousness that our practice should be taking control of our own growth, reflect on the things we find there as well as to know they are part of us, accept the growth completely and take it into practice.

In my point of view, Where The Wild Things Are is a movie that shows that we see our problems from our own perspective, hence it could be useful to create a world of our own so we can dig deep into our own-selves as a way of catharsis. A world where the deepest of our concerns emerge and we face them in a less threatening environment, according to our personalities and preferences. ‘Sometimes to face a monster is easier than to face your mother’. After the confrontation of our own desires and fears, it comes awareness and growth for ourselves and the overcome of obstacles.



Filed under Essays, Film, News

2 responses to “The King of the World

  1. Pingback: Today is the 85th Anniversary of Maurice Sendak. | Visual Ark

  2. Pingback: Where The Wild Things Are – Film Review | teacupsandthings

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