Who are "Bob and Terry"?
November 14, 2009 2:03 PM   Subscribe

In the film version of Where the Wild Things Are, (spoiler alert!) who are Bob and Terry supposed to be?

(spoiler alert!)

So I just saw Spike Jonez's film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are. I thought it was pretty bleak, but I loved the facial expressions on "Bob and Terry", the owls that KW has tucked under her arms. But who or what are they supposed to be?

I'm totally baffled by the symbolism. KW seems to be the "cool" monster, the hip one, the Karen O/Michelle Williams stand in... (not that I am making any assumptions about Mr. Jonez's creative process or anything...).. who has friends who are presumably more worldly than the Wild Things - the famous Bob and Terry.

But then she goes and hucks rocks at a pair of soaring birds, knocking them out of the sky, and tucking them under her arms where they look none too amused. What is their relationship all about?

Are Bob and Terry based on specific people? Heads of Warner Brothers? Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore? Are they symbolic? If so, symbolic of what? Are they saints? Are they frauds?

Sorry, my head hurts. It's a loaded image, and I'm hoping the wise folks of MeFi can help me make some sense out of it.
posted by ladypants to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This was the only part of the movie that struck me as being really wrong. I figured Bob and Terry were supposed to be symbolic of your friends' other friends, the sort of people you hear about but are unconsciously rivalrous of, or are loath to accept into your circle, for no good reason except their otherness. This sort of concept fits pretty well into the sort of themes the movie was exploring, so that's my best guess. But I thought it was jarring and poorly executed.
posted by hermitosis at 2:12 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Bob Daly and Terry Semel.
posted by axiom at 2:14 PM on November 14, 2009

Response by poster: hermitosis - I had that same feeling, and was confused over whether the other friends are supposed to be wise or if it's an Emperor's New Clothes kind of thing... I actually found the whole movie kind of jarring.

axiom - Thanks for the links. I'm not familiar with Hollywood lore - what is it that they are particularly known for? Were they icaruses who flew too close to the sun? Wise gurus? Representatives of a golden age? Charlatans? Mentors? Frauds?
posted by ladypants at 2:21 PM on November 14, 2009

I think their inclusion was either underthought, or overthought to the point of audience exclusion. Either way, I think that we are the victims of an editing decision. Notice how they just sort of went away with no explanation? I bet there was more to that subplot, but that it got pared down by the studio because of "Less weirdo owls and more Wild Things, plz."
posted by hermitosis at 2:24 PM on November 14, 2009

My take was pretty similar to hermitosis's, except that I thought the point was that they're friends-of-friends that you're intimidated by, because you don't know if you're cool enough. But then they just turn out to be these little owls--nothing to be scared of.
posted by equalpants at 2:25 PM on November 14, 2009

They're (former) Warner Bros. executives who (arguably?) screwed up the release of Jonze's Three Kings in 99.
posted by axiom at 2:26 PM on November 14, 2009

Sorry, i should specify that Jonze was in the movie, he didn't direct it.
posted by axiom at 2:28 PM on November 14, 2009

Operating under the assumption that Carol=Max, I always interpreted KW as a stand-in for Max's sister Claire. Bob and Terry are akin to the snowfort stomping youths at the start of the movie.
posted by dogwalker at 2:29 PM on November 14, 2009

I thought KW was the caring, motherly one. She defends him from the abstract intruder owls and Carol when he goes on that rampage. I thought Judith and Douglas were supposed to be the "cool ones." No clue who Ira represents. But I was never under the impression any of the wild things were parallel representations.
posted by moonshine at 2:39 PM on November 14, 2009

I mostly interpreted it the same way as dogwalker. Her new friends are taking her away, and Max doesn't quite understand them (with the owls: KW's hitting them with stones is inexplicable, their language is hard for Max and Carol to understand, and it's not clear whether the other actually understand them or if they're just faking to seem cool; with the sister's real friends: they're older, have weird teenage ways, he tries to be cool and play with them but then they do things he doesn't expect, but sister likes them anyway). Max/Carol don't understand the new friends so even if trying to interact with them in an open-minded way ends up awkwardly.

I think KW isn't a straight stand-in for sister. She also seems to be a little bit of mom too - and mom has new boyfriend who's kind of a similar figure, taking her attention and disrupting the comfortable order of the family.

Plus there are other elements. I think it's risky to take everything in the Wild Things world to be directly allegorical for things in the real world. For example the silent bull - is he Max's dad? Is he just a stand-in for nameless dread, or growing older, or other things we can't face directly even though we know they're there? What about the giant shaggy dog? etc. I think it's a good thing that not all of it makes perfect sense - it makes it a more natural re-creation of dreaming/daydreams/the psychological landscape of childhood. There are things Max doesn't understand, there are things we haven't seen about his life, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:40 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: dogwalker, I couldn't tell if KW was a stand-in for Max's sister, mother, a combination of the two, Sophia Coppola, someone else who Spike Jonze dated (Karen O, Michelle Williams)...oy.. Claire seems totally reasonable. My husband thought Carol and KW were stand-ins for the divorced mom and dad.

equalpants, hermitosis - I forgot that editing can completely change a movie. I remember walking out of 8 Mile thinking that it was a movie that had probably made sense at one point but had been edited by focus group to the point of inscrutability.

axiom, I'm still a little confused, I think I can now imagine a longer version (as hermitosis suggested) where it's clearer that Bob and Terry are just little owls (as equalpants points out). It would suck to have a whole project blocked by nothing more than a pair of owls.
posted by ladypants at 2:45 PM on November 14, 2009

I found the scene of throwing rocks at Bob and Terry to be the most disturbing and memorable in the film. That movie, it drives me crazy! I've never so admired a film that I disliked. It's beautiful, smart, brave, but not true in tone to the book at all. Also, I think it would have been 100% better had it been ruthlessly edited and a half-hour shorter. Also, did you guys notice the annoying product placements for corn?

Anyhow, Bob and Terry - I agree they represent the confusing and disturbing feeling that friends of friends bring. Interesting trivia on where they got their names Axiom.
posted by serazin at 2:50 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the point is that Max isn't sure what to make of them. He gives them a chance, and they seem not-so-great. So why does she like them so much? Why do they like her, when she hits them with rocks? What's the KW-owl relationship all about? Max and Carol can't understand.

I think the audience is intentionally left in the same position - what's the big deal about these new friends of hers anyway? Should Max and Carol just accept the new friends in order to make KW happy , or should they reject them because they seem to kind of suck, and they disrupt the happy old order?

Max is more sympathetic than Carol, because he gets to go to KW's secret beach and gets to hear her point of view a little more -- so Max eventually says "we should let them come in to the fort because they're KW's friends and we should give them a chance", because he wants to keep her happy, or convince her to come back. But it's not clear even at the end of the film whether this is a tenable peace, or whether KW's going to go away to hang around the inexplicable new friends more.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:00 PM on November 14, 2009

Response by poster: Well put Lobstermitten. Call me literal minded, but when I see a slow moving film, set in a desert, where things don't seem to make sense, and plot is almost completely absent, I start looking for allegorical meaning. As a result, I enjoyed the hell out of El Topo.

Where The Wild Things Are just left me with a feeling of depressive delirium. You may be right that the film is constructed to recreate the confusion of childhood, that's not the dominant texture I would give my own childhood. I recall ascribing meaning to almost everything. It rained because I shook a Barbie leg the right way. The surface of a basket ball could be colonized by tiny intelligent life forms and we would never know. This may have been my own unique brand of magical thinking, but it found resonance in Madeline L'Engle's work. So a childhood where everything is completely confounding and meaningless confuses the heck out of me. How dare someone have a different experience from my own!
posted by ladypants at 3:03 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

23 Skidoo nails it as far as I'm concerned ...

All of the Wild Things are different aspects of Max's personality.

And the degree to which the movie pulls this off is the degree to which it's still sort of haunting me. There's just so damned much going on inside little kids.

When he sails back home, he's basically figured out how difficult it is for someone to be in charge when dealing with people who act just like him.

I read the conclusion a little differently. That is, Max has come face to face (heart to heart) with the essential wildness of his own psyche/heart/soul and as such is humbled and, sadly, somewhat tamed.

Where the movie did stumble (and Bob and Terry are definitely part of this) is in that long middle chunk where VERY LITTLE HAPPENS; just a group of kids (Wild Things) trying to build a cool fort and ... ?!? All it needed was some kind of acknowledged threat (ie: Max declaring that Pirates are on their way), which wouldn't even require a payoff (other than him getting caught out as a liar) ... anything to justify some essential tension for the characters, which is at the heart of any good narrative.

But what do I know? I'm just another screenwriter.
posted by philip-random at 3:57 PM on November 14, 2009

grr - I really hated that part of the movie - the thoughtless cruelty to the birds was crappy, and then shrugging it off with a "they love it when I do that" when the looks on the owl's faces clearly said that they didn't. ick. I hadn't been enjoying the film much up to that point, and that kinda ruined it for me. I did get the impression that it was supposed to be shockingly funny, but failed on the funny.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:48 PM on November 14, 2009

Strange, while they do appear in Dave Eggar's Where the Wild Things Are novel, they aren't named. They appear in a portion of the book where Max is trying to feel safe and at home, and these two people are introduced as KW's companions, but she does the same knocking them out of the sky thing, and Max is equally upset in the book as he is in the movie.

If I had to postulate, I'd say the two owls are very similar to what hermitosis says, they act as your friend's friends - you don't like them and your friend is still in the honeymoon period with them, but your friend isn't completely aware what a bunch of dicks they are, yet.
posted by banannafish at 5:43 PM on November 14, 2009

shrugging it off with a "they love it when I do that" when the looks on the owl's faces clearly said that they didn't.

I think part of what's disturbing about it is that it makes us (and Max) see KW in a different light; it makes her seem like a jerk, when previously we thought she was a good-guy character. I think that's related to the new unhappy feelings about his sister. She's getting together with her new teenage friends, and it makes her act in these weird ways that are incomprehensible or jerky. Why is she acting that way? How can Max respond to her acting that way, when he still loves her and wants to look up to her?
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:18 PM on November 14, 2009

LobsterMitten FTW! Seriously, that is a great read. The other wild things are acting out various aspects of Max's childhood turmoil and they are, in effect, pushing KW away. If KW is Max's sister then what the owls reveal is that her being friends with them is pretty inexplicable. Why does his sister need these other friends? How did she get them and why are they even interested in her? I remember being pretty fascinated by my older brother's friends and I didn't really have a read on how those relationships worked at all. They were mysterious and fascinating and, at times, mean.
posted by amanda at 10:05 AM on November 15, 2009

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