The New Wild Things: Eggers and Jonze

By Jonathan Kelly

imageIs it really in dreams that responsibilities actually begin? When young Max is sentenced to his room for acting like a wolf in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, an imaginary jungle ensconces him, his sophisticated fantasies grow primal, and a moment of childish catharsis is unleashed. Dreams breed alternate realities, we realize -the world around us isn’t nearly as lush compared to the one within our mind.

It is a realization that is echoed in Being John Malkovich, Spike Jonze’s 1999 meditation on quotidian reality meets mise-en-Malkovich. And it is reverberated in author-cum-publisher-cum-voice of his generation Dave Eggers’s memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which broke down the fourth wall for good one year later. Neither Jonze nor Eggers were born when Sendak wrote Wild Things, but they are the ideal collaborative unit to project his timeless children’s book onto the big screen. The eponymous film, which the pair wrote and Jonze directed, finds theaters at least a year from now. But the expectations are about as high as the next Harry Potter.

The collaboration between Jonze and Eggers is a union so brilliantly fused that it is nearly astonishing it was born in Hollywood. Both shy of 40 (not so different from the Brooklynite Sendak, who wrote Wild Things at the crisp age of 34 in 1963), Jonze and Eggers are at the fore of the generation of American artists who came of age after Vietnam and whose voice lacks the tinges of want and mistrust. Instead, their cohort took its cues from Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes with an oeuvre that unites the high (Adaptation) with the low (Jackass: The Movie), and the weighty (What is the What) with the ridiculous (what else could explain Eggers’s selection of in The Best American Non-Required Reading edition last year).

Despite how protective one might assume the author would be of his magnum opus, which has sold well over seven million copies, Sendak has bestowed his faith upon the Jonze-Eggers team: “I don’t know what to make of it exactly, but I am so for it,” he has said. Considering that the film Wild Things will be expanded from a book of little more than 300 words, the result of this partnership has been cloaked in the sort of secrecy normally reserved for the launch of a new Apple product, or the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

Despite rumors of incessant re-writes, reports have surfaced that the breadth of the film deals with Max’s difficult escape from the Land of the Wild Things. Though the film boasts voiceovers from Forest Whitaker and Michelle Williams, it is unclear whom or what James Gandolfini and Catherine Keener inhabit��������though it is rumored that actors will don heavy, furry animal costumes created by the Henson Creature Shop and by Casey Storm (Zodiac), who also worked with Jonze on Malkovich and Adaptation. Their faces, so we hear, will be enhanced and ennobled with state-of-the-art computer graphics.

One is left imagining Jonze and Eggers, mad-hatters locked in a Tora Bora-like editing room, re-writing the script, until, as was the case with Jonze’s Adaptation, the film leaps from the book as a self-sustained, but constantly genuflecting, homage. We wait with bated breath.

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