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What the Wild Things Eat

(post, Trista Cornelius)

primary-image, l

Max runs away from home after protesting frozen corn for dinner and then biting his mother on the shoulder.  When he finds the Wild Things, they decide to eat him, because that's what you do with problems and things you don’t understand.  Fortunately, he convinces the Wild Things that he has truly impressive powers, so they make him king and apologize for trying to eat him.  When he makes friends with KW, an outsider Wild Thing, she's relieved to learn he's not an eater, just a biter.  

Throughout the film, I could not help thinking about food, especially the lack of it.  Did Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze plan this, or did my hungry stomach color my view of the movie?  

The film offers few scenes of comfort and many of cold, rain, sadness, anger, confusion, and loneliness.  When a sad Max climbs up to the kitchen table at home, I hope for a cozy dinner scene.  Instead, he asks his mom about the appetizers left over on the table, “What’s that?”  “Pate,” his mom says, clearly not comfort food for a kid, not the nourishing mom-food I’m seeking for sad Max.  Then, picking up the package of frozen corn disdainfully, Max asks why they can’t eat “real corn” and later tells the Wild Things that he hates frozen corn.  The kitchen scene escalates, and he runs away without dinner.  

After a long, harrowing journey, Max sees the inviting lights of a village, a place to get dry, warm, and fed.  Instead, when he gets closer, he discovers that what looked like a warm village from a distance is actually a scene of destruction.  No warmth at the fire or food for the tired, cold, hungry, and still-sad Max.  He manages to make friends with the Wild Things by impressing one with his glee for destruction.  Still, except for their monster-like growls about eating their own feet and kings and a frightening scene of a charred human rib cage left over in one of the fires, not a single image of food appears the entire time Max is with the Wild Things.  

Remember playing really hard outside all day as a kid?  Remember all the emotions you experienced, especially if you played with other kids?  Remember how you felt after a hard, body-shaking cry?  Remember how you didn’t really notice your hunger until the smell of dinner wafted over your playground?  Then, the day’s events of running, fighting, building, dreaming, crying, laughing so hard you almost peed in your pants, and trying to comprehend the mysteries every day holds for kids comes to a halt because of the gut-wrenching hunger you feel and the savory smells coming from your house.  Then, you eat.  You eat with gusto, drinking half of your glass of milk in continuous gulps, gnawing drum sticks down to the marrow and swallowing mounds of mashed potatoes in one gulp.  Then, nothing but warm cheeks, a stretched belly, and the soft feel of pajamas.  Comfort.

The film masterfully depicts the intense emotions of childhood and the way they shift instantly, from fear to laughter to crying back to laughter.  It does not, however, depict snuggly childhood comfort, maybe because laundry detergent commercials have the monopoly on this, maybe because this side of childhood is about all that gets depicted in media, maybe because this is all we try to remember from childhood as adults, grateful to have subtler emotions, feelings slower to change, reason and rationale to keep the raw pain at bay.  

The place of the Wild Things and the psyche of the child present rugged territory filled with unlimited potential as well as fear and sadness.  The child, remember, doesn’t yet know what it’s like to be abandoned by a best friend, to be left behind by an older sibling, or that a play fight can turn into a real fight and what once was hilarious becomes terrifying.  

I kept wishing comforting nourishment for Max.  The makers of the film saved it for the end, when Max finally misses his mother.  Finally home once again, in warm amber light at the dinner table, Max slurps warm soup with a thick glass of rich, white milk nearby.  The soup dribbles down his chin as he smiles at his mother.  As she falls asleep at the table, Max takes large bites of a hearty slice of chocolate cake covered in fudge frosting.  

My man says he shouldn’t be rewarded with chocolate cake for biting his mother!  I, however, think that although nothing is resolved, all is right in the world, at least for that moment.  

(I think I’ll devise a recipe for “Wild Thing Vegan Chocolate Cake” for those days when we’ve been out too long in the cold and rain, trying to decipher the actions of others, struggling to understand who we are and where we belong.  Stay tuned…..)