Where The Wild Things Are
Finally saw Where the Wild Things Are last night. Definitely not the feel-good movie of the year. It’s complicated, messy, unresolved, and a bit frightening.
But then, so is the book.
I pulled the book off our shelf a couple of months ago and read it to London before bed. About halfway through, I kind of felt guilty for choosing something that might freak her out. Max (the boy who’s the main character) gets in trouble at home, travels to an imaginary place full of scary monsters, develops a thorny relationship with them, and finally abandons them to go home.
"Goodnight, sweetie" just doesn’t seem to cut it after that.
But the movie captures the energy of the book well. It effectively explores the loneliness, insecurity, vulnerability, and anger that are an inevitable part of the human experience. It mourns and warns against the disappointment unrealistic expectations bring. And it demonstrates, if in a slightly veiled way, that in the end we’re our own worst problem—and that finding a way to love ourselves is perhaps even more important than feeling loved by the people around us.
Though a bit peripheral to the larger themes of the movie, one of the messages that stuck out to me was the almost impossible burden of leadership.
Not long after he’s arrived, the monsters make Max their king. In the impromptu coronation ceremony, one of them reaches into the bonfire, picks through some old bones, and pulls out a scepter and crown. As the creature bestows these symbols on Max, Max looks toward the bones and asks, “Are those your other kings?”
The monster looks embarrassed and says they aren’t.
But they are.
Finally, when Max leaves, one of the monsters hugs him and muses, “You’re the first king we haven’t eaten.”
It seems the monsters—who clearly struggle with issues of envy, loneliness, anger, selfishness, and the painful communal schisms that inevitably follow all those things—have looked to a series of kings to fix all their problems.
The problems didn’t get fixed.
So they ate the kings.
This is the burden of leadership. We often look to leaders to accomplish for us what we can only accomplish for ourselves. We demand that they fix the mess we’ve created, that they work magic—fast magic—and give us the utopia (as a nation, a city, a church, a tribe, whatever) we desire.
Shockingly, they often fail to deliver.
And so we destroy them, discard them, and hand the scepter to someone else, congratulating the next person chosen to lead.
Just a thought, but perhaps we’d be better off if, instead of doggedly continuing our quixotic quest for utopia and slaying any leader who fails to change our circumstances, we instead turned our focus inward and changed ourselves.
Admittedly, a scary proposition…because that’s where the wild things are.
Stranger Than Fiction, Take 3
For those of you who haven’t seen it, Stranger Than Fiction’s protagonist Harold Crick hears in his head the voice of a woman who, he quickly realizes, is narrating the story of his life.
Not surprisingly, this freaks him out.
As I watched this movie the other night, I couldn’t help but notice Harold’s relationship with the voice, especially at the beginning, is tumultuous. When the voice speaks it annoys him, at one point sending him out into the street screaming up into the air, “Shut up! Shut up and leave me alone!”
But then the voice becomes silent.
Soon after, hoping for information, guidance, whatever, Harold returns to his apartment (the place he first heard the narrator), tearing it apart, searching for the now-absent voice, and cursing its silence.
I know how he feels.
At times, God speaks clearly. And because the things He says sometimes interfere with the way I’d like to live my life, His voice annoys me.
Other times, God does not speak. I wish He’d tell me what’s going on, I wish He’d give me more insight into why something happened, I wish He’d break the silence, show His face, and answer all my questions.
But he doesn’t.
And it’s frustrating.
In my calmer moments, though, I realize that God tells me just enough.
Any less and I’d have no reason to trust Him.
Any more and I’d have no opportunity to trust him.
And so I learn to listen when He speaks, and I learn to trust when He’s silent, and I look forward to the day I meet the voice face-to-face.
Stranger Than Fiction, Take 2
I love the scene in Stranger Than Fiction where author Karen Eiffel is shocked to meet Harold Crick, the main character in the novel she’s writing. After this face-to-face encounter with him, Eiffel finds it quite difficult to write the ending she’d planned for the book—Harold’s death.
My takeaway? Like Eiffel, the story I’m writing affects others. It’s not just about me.
This is a heavy truth.
As soon as you’re aware of (and burdened by) the fact that every line of your life story directly influences the lives of others, you write differently.
At least you should, right?
Stranger Than Fiction, Take 1
So many, in fact, that I decided to do a quick series of posts inspired by the film. Three big truths jumped off the screen at me. Here’s the first:
Stranger Than Fiction drops protagonist Harold Crick into the realization that he’s the main character in someone else’s story. The someone else is Karen Eiffel, an esteemed author who has determined that this story must end with Harold’s death.
Of course, as soon as Harold learns this he vehemently objects, understandably opposed to his “imminent death.” Eventually Jules Hilbert, the literary critic in whom Harold has confided the details of his situation, gets his hands on a draft of Eiffel’s almost-finished manuscript, including her outline for the ending.
Knowing professor Hilbert has read it, and wanting to find a loophole that will keep him alive, Harold shows up the next morning at Hilbert’s office.
"Well?" Harold asks.
"Harold, I’m sorry," begins professor Hilbert. "You have to die."
"I’m sorry, but it’s brilliant, Harold. It’s…it’s her masterpiece. And it’s absolutely no good unless you die at the end."
That day, Harold decides to read the manuscript. And when he does, he changes his mind.
In the next scene Harold stands before Eiffel and says, “I read it. And I loved it. And there’s only one way it can end. It ends with me dying.”
Then Harold looks at his author and says, “I love your book. And I think you should finish it.”
Here’s what I can’t get out of my head: l want to say that to God.
I don’t know everything, but I know this: God’s story is a masterpiece. And while I haven’t seen the whole script, I know it involves my death. And I know the story is no good if I don’t die.
I want to stand on the brink of difficult, scary, sacrificial parts of God’s story and say to him with confidence and peace, “I love your book. And I think you should finish it.”
Feel Bad Movie of the Year
Saw District 9 tonight. Didn’t know much about it; thought it was going to be a fun alien movie.
Instead, it was a disturbing, poignant, heavy exploration of hatred, bigotry, and cruelty. The worst part was that as terrible as the things happening in the movie were, they were totally believable.
They could happen.
They have happened.
Makes me glad for counsel like this:
“Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.”
P.S. For an excellent and brief review of this film, check out Jennifer’s blog.