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You Can’t Take It Back; Ron’s Already Out There!

2 Mar

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

Awhile back, JK Rowling made some comments to the effect that Hermione should have ended up with Harry instead of Ron. This was nearly a month ago, back when I thought I was the kind of person who didn’t really have thoughts about this particular subject. For the record, my inner monologue in recent idle moments has since set me straight.

So she wishes she’d written it differently. Fine. But she didn’t write it differently. Setting aside the argument that perhaps not all of these characters should marry the person they’re dating at seventeen, she didn’t spend ten years and thousands of pages carefully setting up a romance between Hermione and Harry. She invested in Hermione and Ron, and in the ways their very different personalities complemented each other. She gave Harry other loves. She created a canon, and she can add to that canon at any time—but she can’t change it. Not unless she wants to write the alternate history of the wizarding world (in which case, may I request further exploration of Neville Longbottom as the possible alternate Boy Who Lived?). Until then, we’re living by the When Harry Met Sally philosophy of fictional canon: You can’t take it back; it’s already out there!

(There’s also the issue of how to deal with other pronouncements that appear outside the books, but don’t contradict them. To bring up another Harry Potter example, are we obligated to officially consider Dumbledore’s sexual orientation if it’s never referenced in the series? I personally consider these kinds of things non-canon, but not a cause for philosophical rage. We’ll call them apocryphal.)

But let’s get specific. Say it’s all different: Harry and Hermione pine pine pine, battle battle battle, kill Voldemort, and ultimately fall in love. What’s the benefit, aside from to the wizarding gene pool? Does it make things more interesting or illuminate the situation in any way? As a reader, I assume that a Harry/Hermione relationship would come with a completely different set of problems and character issues than Ron/Hermione, and maybe that would have been fascinating. It’s also the wizarding equivalent of the captain of the football team and the most popular girl in school, and anyway, Ron and Hermione are pretty damn interesting as it is: the unglamorous but loyal best friend falls for the smartest, bravest girl in school; she knows every way he falls short, and loves him anyway. Rowling said in the interview (with Emma Watson, incidentally, who agreed) that she didn’t believe Ron is the type of man who could make Hermione happy long-term. I think that’s realistic—but I also think that, in a sense, that’s the point! Not that Hermione should settle, but that she finds and cultivates love with somebody who isn’t her perfect match, in the way that grown-up humans do. After all the wizard-fighting is over, that’s an interesting story.

Also, if Ron doesn’t get Hermione’s love, what does he get? He’s the third-in-command best friend who isn’t a genius, isn’t going to be an Auror, and doesn’t have any money. (This is, again, setting aside the idea that Ron goes off to a wizarding state university on scholarship, plays backup Keeper but ultimately kind of warms the bench, and settles down to a job at the Ministry and a nice non-Hogwarts girl who likes hand-knitted sweaters at Christmas.) I think this kind of statement underestimates how much we’re all rooting for Ron. After all, he’s so often our stand-in: how many of us are the hero, and then how many of us are the occasionally courageous screw-up best friend? Ron spends seven years chasing acceptance; his gaining the love of the girl of his dreams is the end of an arc that’s nearly as important to many Potter fan as who takes the Battle of Hogwarts.

A week after Rowling’s comments set certain quadrants of the Internet on fire, she recanted—sort of—saying that Ron and Hermione would be “all right with a bit of counseling” (which, please tell me there’s a magical MFT program somewhere, and that it has a funny animal-acronym name), which makes me think she was just speaking off the cuff. Again, fine. It’s a free world, and she can say what she wants. But unless she writes it down, binds it up, and sends it out to bookstores everywhere, I don’t have to like it.

Where the Wild Things Aren’t

26 Oct

wildthings

Hipster parents, take note: your movie has arrived. Looking for something beautiful and deep with which to inform your children of the dilemma of their own youth? Trying to find something you loved once upon a time to connect them with the truths of an unplugged, un-Wiied world? Have we got something for you: the new live-action adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are may actually be the worst kids’ movie ever, but as a work of art and a meditation on childhood, it comes across as weirdly true, or at least earnest. Trust me: if you like Spike Jonze’s movies for adults, if you’re counting down the days to baby’s first Being John Malkovich, you’re gonna love this.

This is the kind of movie that co-writers Dave Eggers and Jonze (who also directed the movie, after his pal Maurice Sendak asked nicely) would like to see—not as kids, but now, as artsy, occasionally pretentious adults. It’s gorgeous and thoughtful—a brainy and beautiful treatise on childhood that no child in its right mind would want to sit through. Given the context, that alone should make it obviously, case-closed terrible (who adapts a kids’ book in a way that kids will obviously not like or even get?), but somehow it isn’t—inappropriate, maybe, but not entirely dismissable.

Ironically, Eggers and Jonze have clearly put a lot of thought into their portrayal of childhood, and they’ve done an excellent job of making Max not a movie kid. Pretty much everything about him is spot-on: his dialogue, his responses to trouble, his tendency to spitball fantasies/lies, and his love of a good dirt-clod battle all channel real boys (possibly Eggers and Jonze themselves) rather than stereotypical, scripted ones. Rookie actor Max Records helps them out by being miraculously un-self-conscious while also owning Max’s emotions and experience completely. The combination is sometimes stunning and sometimes almost overwhelming—for example, the moment of misbehavior that sparks Max’s departure from home is genuinely, surprisingly intense for both Max and his mother, not to say the audience.

Where things go off the rails is with the Wild Things: when Max shows up in their land, he walks into their deeply adult set of conflicts, the kinds of subtle interpersonal issues that you’d see in any office or suburban social circle. It’s boring, and not just to kids; there’s a reason we go to the movies, and the mundane manipulations and passive aggression of grown-ups isn’t it. It’s an unexpected interpretation of the book: here, the Wild Things represent the adult world and not Max’s inner crazies, or childhood itself—again, probably an interpretation that’s more interesting (nominally) to adults than to the average kid. He becomes their king and leads them in all manner of wild-rumpus hijinks, but in the end, it’s not just that he’s tired of wild living, or that he misses his mom. He’s the leader of a bunch of predictable, self-serving adults, and that, he decides, sucks. Maybe being a kid for awhile is better than taking on the adult world.  Maybe he should just go have some dinner. He goes home. (Strangely, Max’s departure from the Wild Things is truly poignant—as un-engaging as their group dynamic is, the Wild Things still pack an emotional punch. This is why I can’t write Eggers and Jonze’s work off completely.) 

All flaws considered, it still isn’t exactly forgettable—it’s too Jonze-ian for that, too keyed into thought and especially into beauty. It’s stunning, visually, all spare and lens-flare-y, a weird mix of modernity and old-school lo-fi technique, from the miniature wooden Land of the Wild Things to the Wild Things themselves. In fact, the Wild Things are mostly “real” but assisted by technology: they’re people inside beautiful, ornate monster suits, with seamless and subtle CGI faces added in post-production. It’s mysterious, hard to tell the difference between the tangible and the intangible—and maybe that’s what Jonze was going for all along.

Basically, this movie fulfills every fear that nobody had about adapting Where the Wild Things Are: it isn’t cutesy, it isn’t simple, and it doesn’t fail the theme and aesthetic of the book except for the part about being, well, wild. It’s both troubling and a relief: shouldn’t an adaptation of a beloved children’s book be appropriate for children? Yet, if the movie had been studio-slick, steeped in special effects and Shrekly sarcasm, it would have been an entirely different, and probably more offensive, kind of failure.