Friday, October 16, 2009

Musing Pictures: Where the Wild Things Are

In the context of the trend I referenced in earlier posts (more films about aging in this new retirement boom era), a mainstream film about a child's maturation makes for an interesting counterpoint. "Where the Wild Things Are", Spike Jonze's adaptation of the classic Maurice Sendak children's book, is at once a celebration of a child's imagination, and a cautionary tale about growing up too soon. In his imaginary world, the film's central figure, Max (Max Records), is crowned king, and learns, over time, that leadership is far more than parties and grand plans. When he falters and fails in his grown-up role, he returns to his childhood a bit more grateful for it.

There are, of course, many films about kids growing up. For decades, this was Hollywood's dominant theme, from the baby boom to generation X. Children were urged not to grow up too fast, and grown-ups were urged to re-discover their inner child (the Tom Hanks film, "Big"(1988) is perhaps the neatest encapsulation of this idea).

Looking at these two themes back-to-back -- the wish for a safe and happy childhood versus the need for a noble and dignified old age -- makes me realize just how similar they are. Both involve a person's progression from one distinct stage of life to the next. With childhood, the future is embraced, but often it does not embrace back. As for old age, that future is feared and shunned, but it can not be avoided. In one case, a return to childhood is seen as laudable, but also as an all-too-brief reprieve from the harrowing experiences of the real world. In the other, a return to pre-elderly life is dangerous, irresponsible, and often fatal.

Ironically, with the economy where it is, many retirees are forced to work, to earn a bit more money in order to keep themselves afloat. Our films seem to be urging them on to a noble, quiet, peaceful denouement, but our economy is dragging them back, ill-equipped, to their prime.

How will this cultural dilemma manifest itself in the cinema of the next few years? Which way will the movies push our retiring parents? Will they realign with the needs of a tough economy, or will they present the idyllic, peaceful, retirement that they have begun to suggest?


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