Script Analysis: WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen “Where the Wild Things Are” yet, you might want to check it out before reading this article. Let’s put aside the question right now of whether Where The Wild Things Are is a good movie or not. Let’s put aside the question of whether or not you liked it (or were a bit embarrassed that you liked it as much as you did).

And if you feel like you wasted your twelve bucks on a movie where essentially nothing happens, let’s put that aside as well. Love it or hate it, Wild Things is a movie worth studying, because of the bold and unique ways it is structured to reflect its authors’ premise, both in its most wonderful and troublesome elements.

PREMISE? WHAT LOCAL?

Wild things is governed by a simple idea, or at least a strong suggestion, that we are seeing the whole world through the perspective of a child, as he expresses his anger at his isolated life (and more importantly, his divorced parents ) playing with a bunch of stuffed animals in her room.

The Jonze and Eggers writing / director team makes a very strong (and very risky) decision that nothing in the world of Wild Things is going to exist outside of what a child Max’s age could reasonably imagine. This is embodied in each element of the film:

In the dialogue and actions of Wild Things (who reason and dream and play and rage and even accept the impossible as children). In a plot limited to events that a moderately intelligent child might be expected to imagine, more interested in reflecting the way children play (with exaggerated simplicity, loose ends, and non-linear and nonsensical elements) than in telling a narrative story linear.

In production design, it looks a lot more like what a kid like Max might think is “cool and magical” than we expect from Hollywood grown-ups who bring us movies like Harry Potter or Pan’s Labyrinth. In Where the Wild Things Are, ships to magical lands appear out of nowhere, Wild Things instantly accepts young children as kings, and the torn arms drip sand and not blood. We’re in a world of toddler stuffed animals, and if things seem cheesy, too simple, or just plain ridiculous, it’s because they’re supposed to.

Because of these choices, the Where The Wild Things Are experience completely violates almost everything we expect from a Hollywood movie. We come expecting magic and spectacle, and we only receive the simplest special effects. We come expecting a smooth ride, safe for kids and fun for adults, and instead embark on a chaotic journey that floats along the rushing currents of Max’s joy and rage. We come expecting a “well-made” movie and instead experience the inner world of a child at play.

STRUCTURE? WHAT STRUCTURE?

Most Hollywood movies are based on simple structural rules. If a character appears at the beginning of the movie pretending to be the King, the movie doesn’t end until he learns what it’s like to be a royal King. If a character appears at the beginning of the movie in a land where a bunch of lovely creatures are filled with rage and misery, the movie won’t end until they’ve healed their pain (and yours) and found a way to bring them peace.

As you’ve probably noticed, Wild Things doesn’t follow these rules. Max does not heal the Wildlings. Max doesn’t learn to be a good king. Max doesn’t even “finish” the story. Rather, he leaves abruptly (albeit reluctantly) abdicating his crown like a child called to dinner.

For the most part, nothing happens in Wild Things. And yet, from the character’s perspective, a lot happens. The difference is that, unlike almost all other Hollywood films of its genre, Wild Things builds its structure not linearly and logically, but emotionally and symbolically, through the use of archetypes.

What the heck is an archetype?

The archetypes are an idea derived from the work of psychologist Carl Jung, and then they took hold of Joseph Campbell and a host of his disciples as they sought to better understand history. You could spend years studying the different ways that different critics, teachers, and screenwriting authors have described and categorized archetypes.

Fortunately, it is not necessary.

Your job as a writer is not to categorize or memorize archetypes, but to understand them. And understanding them starts with this simple concept:

An archetype is a character who embodies some repressed element of your main character’s psyche, and exists structurally in your movie to force your character to deal with that repressed element. All movies have archetypes. Great Hollywood movies. Small independent films. Broad comedies. Serious dramas.

Even great silly action movies. They all have archetypes. They have to. Otherwise, your main character would never have to deal with the repressed elements in his psyche and would not have to go through the story. The difference is that within Wild Things, rather than existing in a traditional linear plot, these archetypes exist within an emotional and symbolic one.

THE NORMAL WORLD

One of the truly remarkable things about Where The Wild Things Are is the speed with which the writers Jonze & Eggers establish all the emotional and symbolic elements of the real world that will include the structure of Max’s mythical journey. His isolation and loneliness. Your physical and emotional pain. His feelings of betrayal by his sister and mother. Your feelings of being left behind while your mother and sister establish relationships with new people you don’t like or understand. His shame for being out of control. And most importantly, his violent and destructive reactions to those feelings.

These emotional elements have symbolic counterparts: The snowball fight that ends in tears. The Destroyed Fort. The heart he made for his sister (which he destroys when he smashes her room). And the moment when she bites her mother after seeing her with her new boyfriend.

THE EMOTIONAL / SYMBOLIC WORLD OF WILD THINGS

On a metaphorical level, Max’s journey into the world of wild things is simply an attempt by a child’s mind to make sense of its own destructive rage. Every emotional and symbolic element of the normal world has its equivalent in Wild Things World, creating a metaphorical mirror system through which Max can finally see himself and his world more clearly (while he himself calms his way through the guilt and trauma).

Wild Things bite, just like Max bit his mother. The Wild Things destroy their homes, just like Max destroyed his sister’s room. Max tries to connect with the Wild Things by building a fort and throwing lumps of dirt, just as he once built a snow fort and threw snowballs at his sister’s friends. The connections are simple, giving the film the clarity and line it needs to take the audience along on the journey. But also complex, honoring the complexity of Max’s psychology, as he navigates the complexities of his parents’ divorce and his feelings about it, navigating his relationships with one Wild Archetype after another.

CAROL: The loving but violent father, whom Max’s mother no longer wants to live with despite Max’s love for him, and whose behavior Max is emulating in hers.

KW: The perfect mother figure, who “inexplicably” no longer wants to live with Carol, and instead has a crush on “boyfriends” Bob and Terry, owls that neither Max nor KW can understand.

JUDITH: The embodiment of his jealousy and discontent, that he feels like it’s Max’s job to make her feel better, just as Max wants his mother to do for him.

Even Max himself is an archetype: the quintessential Jungian “hero.” The developing Ego that wishes to be King of its own world.

Throughout the story, by interacting with his archetypes and attempting to do for them what he wishes to do for himself, Max develops empathy and understanding that prepares him to return to his new world. He is forced to confront who his father really is, who his mother really is, and even who he really is. He is forced to face the consequences of his choices and the terrifying idea that he may not be in control, that he may not be the King, that he may, in fact, be simply a “boy, pretending to be a wolf, pretending to be a king “and that, in fact, kings may not exist at all.

It ends with the gift of a heart that Max has made. It’s no coincidence that it looks a lot like the one he once made for his sister and destroyed at the beginning of the movie. Linearly, nothing happens. But metaphorically, emotionally and symbolically, Max undergoes a profound change. You must, otherwise you would not need to go through history.

THE WRITER’S JOURNEY

On an archetypal level, Max’s journey echoes each writer’s journey. We must reduce ourselves to children, allow ourselves to play, bring our own archetypes to life through the words and actions of our characters, create metaphoric and symbolic equivalents for the confusing and contradictory events of our own lives, and ultimately create a structure that Forcing leads us to unearth our own repressed emotions, and takes us, and our main characters, on a journey that changes us both forever.

Although his own work may not be as structurally radical as that of Where the Wild Things Are, if a film in which so little happens can create such a profound journey for its main character, imagine what exploring these emotional elements might entail. , archetypal and symbolic. do it for your own work.

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