Monday, October 26, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are, Freedom, Descartes and Kant

It is likely that anyone who has gone to see Where the Wild Things Are has had the similar revelation that at no point was Spike Jones interested in making a kids movie. There is something awe inspiring about this film that goes beyond the Urban Outfitters publicity, the bus ads, and the billboards. Where the Wild Things Are is a film that, like many before it, redefines our parameters for imagination.

Kant says this of our capacity for experience:

The I THINK must BE ABLE to accompany all my representations; for otherwise something would be represented in me that could not be thought at all, which is as much as to say that the representation would either be impossible or else at least would be nothing for me.
-Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason

As I looked over this today, I found something curious about his suggestion. If it were so that the I think (concepts) did not accompany a representation, we would not experience it. Could it be that some things exist in the world that we cannot see or experience because they do not fit our concepts of the world? This reminded me of Descartes and his famous argument for skepticism. Descartes had dreams, he claimed, that felt as though they could be real and of his waking life. This, therefore, meant that he could not be certain whether he was dreaming or not... ever. But did Descartes have dreams that were as surreal as some of ours tend to be now, in light of such perceptual stimuli as Where the Wild Thins Are and its visually stimulating predecessors? Could he have?

The realism of this film makes me believe that Descartes could not have had the imagination I have, or any of us have. A film like Where the Wild Things Are allows us to conceptualize the impossible. Our experience is able to lay outside the confines of the laws of nature. Our deterministic loop is synthesized with something Descartes or Kant could have never imaged. The predictions we make and, in turn, the decisions we make are constituent upon more than our experience of the natural world. In this way, even our freedom exceeds that of people existing just a few hundred years ago. Where our memories and experiences inform our patterns and predictions, a plane of meta-experience (experience beyond that of the natural world) affords us an avenue of freedom never experienced before.

As film production technology advances, and the experiences we are able to cognize expand, the things that make us conscious humans change. Was this Spike Jones's plan all along? Probably not, but it is the nature of art to expand our consciousness in whatever way it can. This film, to me, was a life-altering step in the right direction. If for no other reason than that, Where the Wild Things Are is one of the most important films of our time.

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