The striking aspect of the amazing "Where the Wild Things Are" film, for me, is the use of landscape, the seemingly inevitable focus on nature as the place we go to work things out, to level ourselves. So often art shows the ways in which that landscape mirrors our interior landscape.
There is no denying the power of the cinematograpy of this film, because there is no denying the power of the landscape that enfolds it at every turn.
In myth, we come up against history, religion, psychology. Greek myth is used as the base tool for depth psychology, relating our Western lives to urbane gods that influenced a rationalizing society. But other myths rise from elesewhere, including the lands they are part of. There are the Celtic myths, with their forests without which they would be impossible to imagine. There are Norse myths, from frozen lands where harsh actions, with and against the landscape, were necessary for survival. Then there is The Kalevala, the Finnish song cycle portraying the Finnish landscape of lake and snow, sled and ice, as it influences every nuanced turn of every tale.
In our concrete landscape, we are able to separate ourselves from the world. All peoples at all times dared to take what they needed from the landscape, striving to make life easier and more fulfilling. However, there used to be less people, less sweeping change, less destructive human activity. The planet is overrun with people now, and too many of us are too far away from any natural lands. Are we disciplined enough to pull back, to need less and to get closer to the rest of the planet? Can we halt the concrete and find the land we need to maintain our real humanity?
Max uses the land and the Wild Things to not only release wild frustrations, but also to rejuvenate, to slow his mind down to be able to think thoughts, rather than simply process and release reactions. No greater tools exist for us to consider and reconsider landscape than myth and fantasy.
I saw a production of Peter S. Beagle's "The Last Unicorn" this weekend. It was remarkable, and part of the credit goes to the amazing production design, the landscape of the play. In a small space, a simple wooden fence became the world of the entire drama, evoking every background and space needed. If you have read this book, you might agree that a live production would be difficult. But this show transported us to a world in which magic and possibility existed. Interesting that culture at its very best in our concrete cities often means escape to a created landscape in the darkness of a theater. Film, drama, music; whatever artistic venture we attend, we go to experience the creation of a new world, or a look back at an older world. It is often simpler, yet more nuanced than our own. we seek a world made up out of fantasy, a landscape we seek to inhabit when the landscape around us is not enough. Or is perhaps too much.
Simplicity is a key idea in our dramas and fictions. Even in film, that most real of arts, we really know everything is created, everything is simpler than in reality.
It seems time to reconsider how to make reality itself simpler.