Saturday, July 10, 2010

I Can Only Remember So Much

Although I have little doubt that I would recollect "Where the Wild Things Are" as a grand experience even if I hadn't grown up with the images ingrained in my mind from early childhood goodnight readings, I must admit that my memory most likely sweetened the whole endeavor for me.  And that's all just a-okay to me.  Nostalgia plays such a large, yet unspoken role in the film, that my having old memories of the story by Maurice Sendak only adds a bittersweet aroma to the film that is oh-so-pungent in the happiest sense of the word.

But let us acknowledge the elephant in the room that is nostalgia, and leave it be.  Can we do that?  I think there's a more pressing matter at hand.

Before Max Records visits the kingdom of the Wild Things, he bites his mother.  I'm sure he doesn't know why he did it, that is to say, he can't explain it, the things he does.  Perhaps we get a bit of insight much later when the strange KW tells Max, "Don't go. I'll eat you up; I love you so." ...Frustrated oral fixations as a means of expressing angry love.

There's an undercurrent to Max's action on the beastly island.  While he's governing over the lot of melancholic monstrosities, he's sorting through his own identity.  And the predominant inquiry is indeed: 'am I a good guy, or a bad guy?'

---Am I good or bad? ---

I recall the first time I discovered the invention of lying.  I was of course, as a youngster, taught to tell the truth, but through a series of 1 + 2 = 3esque experiments, I was able to surmise that if bad things happened, lying was the best way to avoid punishment and humiliation.  I reflect back upon those years and wonder if I realized how evil I was aspiring to be.  On the tail of lying came the more subtle, and in many ways more venomous application of manipulation.

Once, I wanted a Sega Gamegear.  This was overwhelmingly enticing to me because the Gamegear had the promise of color on its screen.  My measly Nintendo Gameboy expressed itself in just boring old black-and-white.  So, I did what any boy would do, and asked my mother for the upgraded handheldic device.  She reasonably told me that as long as I had a functional Gameboy, no Gamegear would be making the rounds in the Stack household.  The next day I filled the sink with water, and the poor Gameboy just-so-happened to find itself submerged in said sink.  The result was a broken device.  I looked like the sad victim.  Whence my next birthday rolled around, I was filled with glee as I unwrapped my brand new Sega Gamegear.  Manipulation of environment was the key to the game.

Every happy boy plays Cops vs. Robbers, Cowboys vs Indians, Superheroes vs. Villains, or just plain old Good Guy against Bad Guy.  At a young age, we are taught (and learn) that there are good people and bad people.  And ever so slowly, as the selfish lies mount up, we must wonder to ourselves, 'am I really a good guy?'

Max is a good guy.  We know this because he leaves his beloved Wild Thing World to return to the embrace of his mother.  Did you catch how worried she was?  She needed Max to return home.  That's was the good guy thing to do.  And with this resolution, Max finally crowned with his true banner of goodness, the movie concludes.

For me, the question of goodness was much more murkier.  The lies continued into adolescence.  And then came the awful guilt of being raised in a Christian household, but having deep yearnings to have sex with pretty much any female thing that I could see, hear, or smell (I didn't really get the opportunity to touch or taste, being a rather shy and geekish 13something).  Where did these despicable inclinations come from?  Perhaps I was pre-ordained to be a bad guy.  After all, there have to be bad guys -- without them, there's no way to know who the good guys are.

Now things are much easier to discern.  A fair understanding of Christian theology has sufficiently informed me that we are all bad dudes, but get to be rescued from our own malevolent anti-virtues, because we choose to stick by the side of the one real Superman that lived... but boy, I wish I could remember what it felt like, when every moment predicted your future.  What was it like to always be at the threshold of good and evil... between being just a Wild Thing or becoming a real monster?

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