Script Analysis – Where the Wild Things Are – Archetypes and Emotional-Symbolic Screenplay Structure

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SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen “Where The Wild Things Are” yet, please take a look before reading this article. Let’s immediately put aside the question of whether Where The Wild Things Are is a good movie or not. Let’s put aside the question of whether you liked it or not (or were a little embarrassed that you enjoyed it as much as you did).

And if you feel like you’ve wasted your twelve dollars on a movie where essentially nothing happens, let’s put that aside as well. Love it or hate it, Wild Things is a film worth studying, due to the bold and unique ways in which it is structured to reflect the premises of its authors, both in its most wonderful and its most problematic elements.


Wild things are governed by a simple idea, or at least a strong hint, that we are seeing the whole world through a little boy’s perspective, as he processes his anger at his isolated life (and, more importantly, his i parents divorce) playing with a bunch of soft toys in her room.

Jonze and Eggers’ team of writers and directors make a very strong (and very risky) decision that nothing in the Wild Things world will exist outside of what a boy of Max’s age could reasonably imagine. This is embodied in every element of the film:

In the dialogue and actions of the Wild Things (who reason and dream, play and get angry and also accept the impossible just like children). In an event-limited plot that a moderately intelligent child might imagine, more interested in reflecting how children play (with exaggerated simplicity, pending issues and non-linear and nonsensical elements) than in telling a linear narrative story.

In the scenography, which looks much more like what a child like Max would think was “beautiful and magical” than what is expected of the grown-up Hollywood minds that bring us films like Harry Potter or The Faun’s Labyrinth. In Where the Wild Things Are, boats for magical lands appear out of nowhere, Wild Things immediately accepts the little boys as kings and the torn arms dripping sand and not blood. We’re in a kid’s world of stuffed animals, and if things seem trivial, overly simple, or just plain silly, that’s why they should.

Because of these choices, the Where The Wild Things Are experience completely violates almost everything that is expected of a Hollywood movie. We expect magic and spectacle and are given only the simplest special effects. We expect a smooth ride, safe for children and fun for adults, and instead we are taken on a chaotic journey that floats along the rushing currents of Max’s joy and anger. We expect a “well done” movie and instead experience the inner world of a child playing.


Most Hollywood movies are based on simple structural rules. If a character shows up at the beginning of the film pretending to be a king, the film doesn’t end until he has learned what it means to be a real king. If a character shows up at the beginning of the film in a land where an otherwise adorable group of creatures is filled with anger and misery, the film isn’t finished until they’ve healed their pain (and their own) and found a way. to bring them peace.

As you’ve probably noticed, Wild Things doesn’t follow these rules. Max doesn’t care for wild things. Max doesn’t learn to be a good king. Max doesn’t even “finish” the story. Rather, he abruptly (albeit reluctantly) leaves abdicating his crown like a child called to dinner.

For the most part, nothing happens in Wild Things. Yet, from the character’s point of view, so many things happen. The difference is that unlike almost all other Hollywood films of its genre, Wild Things constructs its structure not linearly and logically, but emotionally and symbolically, through the use of archetypes.


Archetypes are an idea derived from the work of psychologist Carl Jung, and later grasped by Joseph Campbell and a slew of his disciples as they sought to understand history better. You could spend years studying the different ways in which different critics, professors, and scriptwriters have described and classified archetypes.

Fortunately, you don’t have to.

Your job as a writer is not to categorize or memorize archetypes, but to understand them. And understanding them starts with this simple concept:

An archetype is a character who embodies some repressed elements of your main character’s psyche and exists structurally in your film to force your character to face that repressed element. All films have archetypes. Great films by H