Wes Anderson Looks at Life Twice in Moonrise Kingdom
Will Wes Anderson ever return to the adult sexuality of the Hotel Chevalier overture in The Darjeeling Limited? His new film Moonrise Kingdom’s mannerist style suggests, perhaps, an adieu to innocence. It’s a remarkable childhood memory (co-created with writer Roman Coppola) at the same time that it knowingly presents a sophisticated deconstruction of the idea of America’s prelapsarian innocence.
Moonrise Kingdom is titled for an idyll shared by two New England preteens-in-love, Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman). It’s the name they give an unchristened cove previously known by its map coordinates or the technical “Mile 3.25 Tidal Inlet.” Suzy and Sam are both 12-years-old but Anderson’s personalized vision makes their identities emerge poignantly: Suzy’s detached from her parents and three brothers, Sam’s an orphan isolated from the delinquents in his foster home and in his scout troop. They are typical Anderson protagonists which means nothing about them is typical.
Both Suzy and Sam’s intelligence arises from their self-conscious loneliness, part of their survival tactics–she reads books about girls in danger, he becomes an exemplary boy scout. Their shared paradise (fondly set in 1965) might not last into adulthood but better than Stand By Me’s sappy view of adolescence, Anderson offers fine insight into their specific emotional qualities. Anderson studies the depths of Suzy and Sam’s personalities, not preteen eroticism like the Peter and Wendy in J.P. Hogan’s extraordinary 2003 Peter Pan. This is a little like Anderson‘s complement to the Coen Brothers’ 1960s-set A Serious Man. But it’s also a runaway’s story like Francois Ozon’s Criminal Lovers–a Hansel and Gretel tale mixing Night of the Hunter and They Lived By Night–although Anderson favors a chaste view of sexual precocity and violence.
This delicate, eccentric sensibility in Anderson’s films (The Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenenbaums, etc.) confuses some people but his meticulous visualization of feeling and adolescent/adult experience is what distinguishes his cinema. Childhood isn’t coddled in an excessive or nostalgic way; it provides a key to Anderson’s sense of basic human nature. The adults in Moonrise Kingdom–Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand), Sam’s Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) and the local police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis)–display an older but similar weariness and dissatisfaction. Despite the farcical tone, no one is infantilized; all are seen sympathetically: Norton’s weak chin and slight lisp personify the dweeb that is Anderson’s specialty. He’s not brilliant like the nerds Jason Schwartzman plays for Anderson; rather, he’s part of Moonrise Kingdom’s mundane, well-meaning, unjudged innocents.
Starting with Suzy’s brothers listening to Benjamin Britten’s 1947 recording “The Young Person‘s Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34 (Themes A-F),” Anderson diagrams the basic social unit of Family in a remarkable series of lateral pans through the Bishop family frame house, then through the campsite of Sam’s Kahaki Scouts unit at Camp Ivanhoe. The idea of musical variations serves Anderson’s method of describing social groups and diverse human relations. Each character is introduced in their private rooms, personal worlds–individuals as part of a whole. If it looks just like the animated universe of Fantastic Mr. Fox, that’s Anderson’s affectionate point. But don’t underestimate his perspicacity. These white folks retracing the Indian trails of their habitat reveal a lot more about Americans’ connection to their history than Alexander Payne’s smugly dishonest The Descendants.
Anderson acknowledges his self-aware pageantry (and dependence upon social behavior and public ritual) in a flashback to Suzy and Sam first meeting at a church performance of Britten’s opera Noye’s Fludd. It resembles a layered, cut-out Christmas card unfolding before our eyes. A rebuke to 3D gimmickry, it also makes the work of imagination-in-life real in the way of every special Anderson tableau. There’s a beaut when Suzy and Sam are on a misty beach with an olive-colored lantern on the left, yellow suitcase on the right, her saddle oxfords on left, a blue record player on right and a pair of binoculars in the foreground.
Binoculars, a familiar eyepiece object like from Anderson’s debut Bottle Rocket, symbolize his gift for seeing youth and adulthood, innocence and experience, simultaneously. This double vision makes Moonrise Kingdom odd yet familiar, substantive and deeply charming.
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