David Brooks’ article ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ examines Spike Jonze’s 2009 movie adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s famous story to explore two different views of humanity: the philosopher’s view and the psychologist’s view. The philosopher’s view emphasizes that people are essentially defined by one characteristic that maintains its primacy no matter what context people are in; we have permanent traits that are consistent despite the situation. The hero is good and conquers evil. The psychologist’s view suggests that “we each have a multiplicity of tendencies inside, which are activated by this or that context.”
The movie demonstrates the latter interpretation of humanity. Overwhelmed by his numerous and conflicting impulses, young Max runs away to a metaphorical realm where different pieces of his inner mania manifest into Wild Things. In the book, Max stares into the eyes of the Wild Things to tame them. The hero uses willpower to conquer the unwanted passions that he hosts. In the movie, however, Max’s efforts to tame the Wild Things is fruitless even though they want to be controlled. It is only when Max is immersed in building a fort that he achieves momentary harmony amongst the Wild Things. “This isn’t the good life through heroic self-analysis but through mundane, self-forgetting effort, and through everyday routines.”
After reading this article, I gravitated more towards the psychologist’s view. I recalled all the parts of myself that I had been taught were “bad,” and all the parts of myself that I still think are “bad” and wish I could eliminate. However, all my efforts to suffocate certain Wild Things inside me yield only more inner turmoil. I also thought of times when I felt like a different person depending on the context (i.e. who I am in a Studio class versus who I am when I am at my retail job). Plus, the philosopher’s view seems to be society’s ideal, not the individual’s. Social rules and mores, the legislated and unwritten laws of our communities dampen our sense of selves to appropriate appearance. We limit the natural expression of our complex humanities to sustain a presentable, consistent, and vain persona.
clip from ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ (2009) where Max (Max Records) formally meets the Wild Things, who act weird, according to Carol (James Gandolfini)
In the article, Brooks interprets that the act of building the fort––the thing that brings our Wild Things into harmony without taming them––as a creative moment. He illustrates that an integral piece of a creative moment is the community focus, where the ego is secondary to the group. Therefore, work that is primarily self-serving for the ego, is not art. So, creative activities soothe our inner chaos because they are inherently community driven, calling our Wild Things to look to larger group, not themselves. Theatre can do this particularly well. Ideally, audiences whole-hearted focus is off of themselves and on the performance in front of them. This outward focus allows audiences’ Wild Things to surface and respond freely. And ideally, they are responding to a piece that is by a community and for the community.
But the ideal is often not reached. Work driven by ego, work that is primarily self-serving is not art, and therefore cannot induce peace between the Wild Things. Additionally, work that limits the Wild Things within the stories we tell and characters we portray cannot provide that harmonious opportunity for our audiences either. Tragedy and love is a large part of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ but those two components do not wholly make up that story. Maggie Pollitt (from ‘Cat on the Hot Tin Roof’ by Tennessee Williams) is sexy and manipulative, but those two traits do not solely define her.
With that said, Brooks ends the article by maintaing that the philosopher’s view and the psychologist’s view are not inherently total opposites. And after digesting the article, I believe we need both the philosopher and psychologist. Sometimes, our expression is limited excessively, constricting our identities to empty standards that do more harm than good, like the aforementioned example of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Cat.’ This also happens personally: ‘I will not cry because I am a man.’ But part of this limit is needed to function as a community. When I am driving on the highway, I need to ignore the Wild Thing that wants to drive in-between the lines, the one that wants to go 100 miles per hour, and the one wants to test how far I can get when the red gaslight is on. And whether we like it or not, there are steps in the creative journey that are not creative. Sometimes we have to drive to a different neighborhood to pick up the piano we need to borrow for the show.
So, how can we bring our Wild Things into the creative process responsibly? When do we raise our voices? When do our Wild Things concede to other communities of Wild Things? How can we create specific stories and characters and still embrace their complexities? How do we allow our Wild Things into the work without overtaking it?