Lisa Markwell: Wild things to make (adult) hearts sing

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The Independent Online

The difficulties of navigating childhood are very much on the news agenda just now. Will little ones be able to read and write by the time they leave their primary school, which may itself be languishing at the lower end of the just-released league tables? Will their dreams of owning a dog diminish further due to parental over-cautiousness in the wake of poor John-Paul Massey? Will a summit in a far-off city fix climate change, or will the world be clogged irrevocably by pollution by the time they reach 18?

At least our offspring can escape into the cinema to escape the anxiety... Well, that's not strictly true. Because the buzz film of the season is Where The Wild Things Are by the maverick director Spike Jonze.

It is, it turns out, as melancholy and complicated a meditation on the psychological trauma of childhood as anything I've seen or read before. What started as a picture book about a little boy's fantasy of his bedroom turning into a forest has grown (rather like his bedposts) into something far darker. Jonze's contemporary, writer Dave Eggers, created both the screenplay and a new, full-length novel based on Maurice Sendak's sixties classic. It is a wonderful read, but absolutely not aimed at children – rather like the film, confusingly. Jonze has been quoted as saying: "I didn't set out to make a children's movie; I set out to make a film about childhood." For this adult, he has gloriously, heartbreakingly succeeded. I sat enthralled at a preview screening two nights ago, but was very glad I hadn't taken my 10 and 13-year-old children. For despite the beautifully imagined fuzzy creatures and poppy soundtrack, what unfolds is something no child wants to see: the elements of their character – selfishness, loneliness, destructive wilfulness and inability to understand what is serious – laid bare. The "wild things" are all parts of Max the nine-year-old hero. When the impulsive hairy creature Carol asks Max, "Will you keep out all the sadness?" or when the reclusive but sharp-toothed KW states, "It's hard being part of a family", it's almost unbearably poignant.

At a time when we conflate naïve victim and feral troublemaker as our image of children, this product of divorced, distracted parents – who has no outlet for his latent fury and confused emotions about growing older – makes for salutary viewing.

And it's curious that Jonze, a skateboard-obsessed and mischief-making auteur with no children of his own should be able to tune in to the turmoil going through the boy's head: "Let the wild rumpus start" hollers Max, who is then riven with guilt and shame when faced with the ensuing destruction.

It may only be rated PG, but younger children will miss the meaning of the nuanced voice performances by James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara and Chris Cooper altogether – these aspects of Max's personality are in constant conflict and spend much of the film bitching about each other and agonising over what each other's actions mean. Older children will have no desire to reminisce emotionally about their lost innocence (it being all of, oh, three years ago).

But anyone who's ever been a child is in danger of shedding a tear as Max leaves the wild things to return to his family: life's responsibilities sit heavily on his narrow shoulders. Don't take your children to see this film, but do let it inform the way you react when your kids ask for an explanation of what's going on in the world.

Mellow Marilyn is more beautiful than ever

The footage of Marilyn Monroe appearing to take a toke on a joint was quite an eye-opener. What's most surprising is that the film sat in an attic for years before recently being sold to a collector (of Monroe memorabilia, we assume, a lucrative business), particularly in an age when sex tapes are on the internet almost before the participants have retrieved their pants. I like to think that a relay team of dedicated fans protected the reel of celluloid over the years to prevent the star's image being tarnished any more than it had been already.

Funnily enough, she's rarely looked more beautiful, in her mellowed-out pose with beaming grin and relaxed gestures. Of course, if Marilyn was a contemporary star and the footage was splashed around – complete with hackneyed "Some like it pot" headline — she'd have her face circled with arrows pointing at her crow's feet and wrinkles around her mouth to prove smoking ruins your looks. Thank goodness for the relative naivety of the late 1950s.

No thrills when Tiger's playing around

Has Tiger Woods finally done something interesting? He finds himself emblazoned on front pages the world over for something other than a new multi-million dollar sponsorship deal or handicap-defying score at some golf shindig (can you tell that I don't care much for the sport?) He's now a "real" celebrity; he's got a sex scandal to his name.

What happened between Mr and Mrs Woods the night of his car accident may never be known, but we do know the lurid details of the other women, whose existence precipitated the prang. There's the waitress who claims she has had a long-standing affair with the golfer, and the nightclub hostess who insists she hasn't. Apparently there's a third woman waiting in the wings to open her heart (i.e. sell her story).

Having read the transcript of his voicemail to "woman A" ("please delete your name from your phone. My wife may call you...") and his subsequent statement, "I regret those transgressions with all of my heart" – that's transgressions, folks, not transactions – he is, on reflection, just as boring as ever.

Rather like that other sporting hero/dullard gone rotten, Thierry Henry, he's cheated in the most obvious and unimaginative of ways and now blames others for the aftermath: "Although I am a well-known person and have made my career as a professional athlete, I have been dismayed to realise the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means."

If he'd been snorting coke off a nine iron while bedding Hallé Berry (a golfing fan), the world might have found him racy rather than sleazy. Frankly, it's all very below par.