Where the Child Things Are

I wish Spike Jonze had invited me over to screen his new movie, and I would have said, “But what is this ABOUT?”  I don’t think the film takes a stand for or against conventional narrative structure, which bothered me, but then again, there is a good blanket fort.

Max, in the movie, makes a fort out of blankets, which I hope you know is a super fun thing to do.  Couch cushions make it better.  The best couch has removable seat cushions and back cushions, and a good balance of softness and rigidity.  It would be best if there were pillows for either end that came in a shape useful for building.  Our best building couch was the living room set, two couches with scratchy tan, gray, and cream upholstery.  (In our family, it was certainly a couch and never a sofa, although I don’t know what that’s about.)

Our blanket forts, on the other hand, functioned as Little House on the Prairie encampments, spaceships, and clubhouses of one kind or another.  Never forts.  Obviously a blanket is too easily penetrated.  I’m not sure what Max was thinking on that score.

When Max makes his fort in the movie, he runs out to call for his mother and show it off.  Although my parents are wildly supportive of pretty much every move I make, I remember how disheartening it was when I got old enough to perceive that they were faking interest in my projects.  They wanted to get back to a book or a television show or the bills or a phone call.  Max’s mom is busy like that.  She doesn’t come up to see the fort.

Your parents being grown-up has its plusses and minuses.  If parents are too into what their kids do, I actually feel sorry for the kid.  Kids have their own world, their own thing, and grownups are only required to keep it from going off the tracks into “Lord of the Flies” territory.  Mostly, when I was a child, I felt like a colonial American.  Lots of influence, lots of administrative activity, but my world was still my own to navigate and define.

The sad thing for me was that Max’s friends in his tent were teddy bears.  Adorable glass-eyed teddy bears in a row.  I thought immediately about how when I had a spaceship, I had a copilot.  I never had to look hard or hold auditions or anything.  I started with two little sisters, and later, I got three more siblings.  When I was older and directed movies using my dad’s old camcorder, I was frustrated by casting limitations, but not nearly as frustrated as old Max would have been.  For heaven’s sake– I even had a minimal spread of age and gender to work with.

In one of the reviews of Jonze’s movie, the writer mentioned that Max runs out of his house toward his Wild Things adventure, rather than sitting in his room and letting the vines grow, the walls disappear.  (I’m sorry I can’t find this reference again.)  I guess that is a forgiveable change for cinematic purposes.  It was sad to miss that idea, though– that your escape, as a child, was realizing that your mind was your own, and no parent or teacher or monster could be in there without your okay.

For me, that was part of becoming a reader.  There was always a safe place in my head, if a writer set it up for me.  Escape isn’t out there somewhere– it’s in your head.  (And imprisonment is there, too, as Max gets totally freaked by the idea that the sun will go out.  I heard about that on “3-2-1 Contact” and was equally terrified.)

What I did like about the movie was that it showed how children have their own world.  Max’s mom says she is sorry that some other kids hassled Max, and she says she would have stopped them.   She wouldn’t have.  She couldn’t have.  At the very end, the mom closes her eyes like she’s falling asleep, and Max is alone again.  Deep alone in his thoughts about his adventure, and maybe alone in the forest of his mind.

This is my favorite real review of the film, especially the part about “Kids love danger.”  Danger was indeed oddly lacking:

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2009/10/19/091019crci_cinema_denby

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