Yesterday I saw Spike Jonze’s film adaptation of the classic children’s picture book Where The Wild Things Are. I’ve seen it twice. It is utterly beautiful (a phrase first attributed to the film by my friend MW, who really should start blogging). The cinematography is stunning. The casting is brilliant. The soundtrack exhibits the talents of the wonderful Yeah Yeah Yeahs front woman Karen O.
It is also a deeply sad film. This sadness, as I’ve come to realise is often the case, goes hand in hand with beauty. Sadness is a central concern in Where The Wild Things Are. In the midst of the brawling (both playful and hurtful), the protagonist Max, having run away from his broken home into his imaginary world, is asked to be the king of the Wild Things. In assessing his eligibility, Carol asks: ‘What about loneliness?’ Douglas continues with what for me was one of the most moving lines in the film: ‘What he’s trying to say is, will you keep out all the sadness?’
I have lived a life remarkably free (so far) of suffering. I have a loving family who have remained together, I have benefitted from supportive church communities; I have had only limited experience of deaths in the family. Nevertheless, my friendships have opened me up to the full extent of the sadness of this world. A majority of my close friends have experienced the tragedy of broken families, the death of family members and close friends, or the pain of depression. This world is a sad and broken place.
The question posed in Where The Wild Things Are is a real one for anyone who’s lived long enough to suffer. Is there any hope for a world, as Carol puts it, ‘where only the things we want to happen would happen’? In the words of the Wild Things, is there a king who can keep out all the sadness?
The film’s answer is refreshingly free of escapism. Where The Wild Things Are does not shy away from what we all know, even children: the world is sad place. Max at first attempts escapism. Just as he has escaped into his imaginary world, so he deals with conflict and relational hurt within that world. His first kingly order of business is a command to ‘Let the wild rumpus start!’ When personalities clash and tempers flare, he commissions a friendly war to relieve tensions. But the peace doesn’t last. Escapism doesn’t work.
Instead, the relationships between the Wild Things lead Max to assert that they must love each other, despite obstacles, because they’re a family. K.W. responds by saying that ‘Being a family is hard.’ We all know she’s right. Max knows she’s right. He decides to return home, and amid the sadness of a broken family and a mother’s terror at her son’s flight, we see the beauty of their reunion.
This is a good message for children (and adults) to hear. Love in a world full of sadness is hard work; yet it is both worthwhile and required of us.
But it doesn’t deal with the core issue. An acknowledgement of suffering doesn’t make it go away, and doesn’t make it okay. We do desire an end to sadness; we know instinctively that this is not the way things should be. Is there any hope for a world without pain? Max, as king, had promised to shield the Wild Things from sadness. When everything goes awry, Alex remarks to Max ‘I don’t think there is a king who can do all the things you said.’
Yet there is. The Christian bible testifies about Jesus the Messiah, God’s chosen king. He is one who knows sadness in every way as we do: he suffered a life of rejection, and a horrifying death brought about by the gross injustice of those with political and juridicial authority, betrayed with a kiss by one of his closest friends. I am convinced he did not stay dead, but was raised bodily to new life after three days in the grave.
The testimony of the New Testament is that this same Jesus, now ruling as king from heaven, will return to the earth to establish his kingdom fully and forever. We see a beautiful picture of this in Revelation 21. Describing Jesus’ future return, the writer sees a new heaven and earth. Here God lives side by side with his people. ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will exist no longer; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away’ (verse 4). ‘Look!’, says the king, ‘I am making everything new’ (verse 5). The return of this king will see the end of sadness itself, and a new beginning in a place where sadness will not be.
While the world waits for Jesus’ return, aching with all the pain we resist so lamely, we must continue to persevere with loving one another. We must endure sadness; indeed, God uses suffering to grow the Godly character of those who trust in Jesus. Where The Wild Things Are gives us no reason to persevere, because sadness just is; there is no promise of an end to the pain of living in the world.
But there is hope: in Jesus, we have a king who will keep out all the sadness.