I was very close friends with [Where the Wild Things Are author] Maurice Sendak. I learned that the function of children’s literature, the function of a book like Where the Wild Things Are, which [Steven and I] talked about a lot when we were working on the movie, is that it scares the shit out of you the first time you read it. Then you read it over and over and over again. By the time you’re done, you’ve cycled through the book for a year or whatever and you’ve memorized it. The thing that scared you is now safe, it’s yours, you’ve incorporated it, you’ve survived the encounter with it repeatedly.
Art is a way, in childhood and also in adulthood, that we have of organizing existence, giving it meaning and making it less overwhelming and sometimes less menacing, less terrifying, so that we can encompass it, we can culturate ourselves to it and feel a mastery over it, and thus, over our life. Whatever weird chemistry in Steven’s brain that makes the inside of his head an editing room with incredible spatial sense and everything else… I was really moved by this kid, Samuel. He finds this camera which becomes a conduit for this gift that he has. The camera becomes his way of conquering the world.
But of course, as art always will, it leads you right over a cliff, because the world is not safe and it’s not ultimately containable. It reveals things he doesn’t want to see when he goes back to look at it. What kind of powers are you really putting in motion when you work in art? What do you control and what can’t you control? And it’s not just true of art, it’s true of anything.
So many scenes and characters in this movie that work extraordinarily well contain a power over Samuel that he’s not sure how to behave opposite of. There is a fear of being placed in front of someone, and you don’t know what energy they’re giving you or what they want from you, that is so off-kilter.
The dynamics of any family always involves secrets. Nobody is transparent to anyone. Your mother is not transparent to you, nor is your father, nor are they to each other. This business of being in a house full of people whom you know as well as you’re ever going to know anybody, who are also strangers to you because we all keep parts of ourselves sealed off, gives it a certain sense of complexity and menace. Because of my mother, who was a bassoonist, I felt a great connection with Steven’s mother, who was this frustrated but very talented pianist.