sendak.jpgI didn’t want to go. I hated the very idea of the movie, was all doesn’t Hollywood ever know when to leave well enough alone?

But then today–Saturday–was very cold and very gray, Liam had played a morning soccer game and an afternoon soccer game, and Husband needed time to finish packing for a week-long (week!) business trip. I like to say he’s going to “Arabia,” but in fact he’s going to the much more prosaic (although still very far away) Abu Dhabi (which is not Dubai).  So when two mommy friends asked if we’d join them at the movies, I said yes (okay, in part I said yes because one promised to bring me candy corn from Economy Candy and I will do just about anything for candy corn).

Thus it was that I found myself, with a 5 year old and a 9 year old in tow, in a very crowded movie theater for the 4:30 showing of “Where the Wild Things Are.”  If nothing else, I thought, I could hide my iPhone under my bag and make lists for the upcoming week: having Husband out of town for a week takes our already complicated schedules into a defcon four status that hurts my head to think about.

But you know what? I didn’t even look at my phone once. The movie is…good. Actually, it’s quite beautiful. Actually, many of the parents in the audience were snuffly-eyed at the end of it (you can decide for yourself if that’s good or bad), and so were some of the kids.

It’s not perfect, and it’s not true to the letter of Sendak’s book, but it’s pretty close, I think, to the spirit of the book: the conflicting desires that we all have for anarchy and order, independence and dependence, adventure and safety.

The opening twenty minutes or so, which situate Max in “real life,” enthralled Liam and Caleb. I think they saw in his life elements of their own, particularly the ways in which Max’s world conspires to make him feel powerless.  And I saw myself in Max’s mom–the belated tag-on of “please” to the shouted command to “get your stuff off the table now….”  and her attempts to deal with her tantruming son while she has company–the initial attempt to discipline said child with whispered commands through gritted teeth and a fake smile, the plea for good behavior so that fights don’t have to take place while there are witnesses…oh yes, that’s familiar territory.

But then Max takes off, and we are on unfamiliar ground. True, his room doesn’t grow over with vines, but there is still a magical transformation, an epic journey “across a year and a day,” and a violent stormy landing on the island of the wild things.

Much has been made of these wild things–their fuzzy costumes, the animatronic faces, the fact that they have individual personalities and, clearly, back stories: Judith and Ira are lovers, KW and Carol have had some kind of fight, no one pays attention to Alexander, Douglas and Carol are best friends…And the wild things talk about these relationships, fret about their emotions, and hope that discovering a King will Make Everything Better.

I would have thought that the five year old would be fidgeting and squitching during all the talky bits about these relationships, but it was the nine year olds who wanted to get on with the scenes of fort-building, mudball fighting, and, of course, the Wild Rumpus. Caleb sat entranced and when we got home, I realized why: after he dropped his coat on the floor (isn’t that where it goes?”), he squatted down by his knight figures that he’d put down when we left for the movie and was immediately back to staging daring rescues and epic battles. The rest of us, as far as he was concerned, were completely invisible.  So Max’s world, with some variations, was Caleb’s world, while Liam and his friends have already left that world behind, for the (far inferior world) of computer games and sports.

Close to the end of the movie, as Max says good-bye to all his Wild Thing friends on the beach, Caleb turned to me and said, with whispered indignation “this a sad movie!” And then, when Carol comes lumbering onto the beach just in time to howl a bereft good-bye to his dear friend Max, Caleb whispered “Max has two families.The monster family and th’other family, wit’his mommy. I t’ink he loves both.”

I was going to say something here about the whole power of imagination thing, or about hanging on to our inner child, or some blahblah like that, but Caleb’s comment sent me in another direction. I went back to the logistics list that I didn’t make because I got so caught up in Max’s journey, and in the Wild Things’ amazingly beautiful buildings, some of which resemble the sculptures of Martin Puryear.

My list of How I Will Manage While Husband Is Away include one friend who will pick up Caleb after school on Tuesday, another who will bring Liam home from after-school on the day I work late, a third who will watch Caleb for a few hours on Wednesday, and the long-time babysitter who said she’d walk Liam to school every morning (okay, true, I’m paying her, but she’s a college student and I’m asking her to haul ass out of bed and be here by 7:45 every day, no small feat when you’re 19). In short, this group–my other family, you could say–is saving my bacon this week. 

Caleb hit it just on the head. Max sails the vast ocean alone in his wobbly little boat, but at each end of his journey, there is a family. So too with us, don’t you think? Two families: One we are assigned by the vagaries of blood and fate. The other we create for ourselves, but we love both.