Outcast Lovers on the Run
To watch a Wes Anderson film is to become enveloped into a world of artistic mastery and detailed simplicity. Anderson’s stories, characters, and settings have a fantastical aura that beckons you to join their caricaturist but calming and unexposed universe. All of these qualifiers are met and appropriately exceeded in Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson’s latest and in my opinion best achievement. It contains aesthetic snippets of his films past, juxtaposed this time against a more decongested storyline, one that evokes more room for interpretation and overall mystification.
If you are unaware of Anderson’s stylistic prowess, the first scene will surely designate proper appreciation for it. He begins with a long, uncut tracking shot that stretches over the interior of the young girl protagonist Suzy’s house, moving vertically and laterally as if the home is a one-dimensional doll house. The camera scopes over menial tasks done by Suzy, her three little brothers playing board games, and her regimental parents, which though they feel purposeless, have intricate, intentional qualities.
In this way, Anderson’s films often feel visually and thematically like storybooks. He makes special use of the mildest of gestures, expressions, and actions, adult minutia that caters to the curious and impressionistic child. Characters wear the same costume every day, from Suzy’s pink dress, to the clunky Boy Scout getup of a troop leader. The cinematography, from Robert Yeaman, and narrative structure appears two-dimensional, infused with tableau shots and compositions meant for a stage rather than an intimate filmsetting (comically played out in an early scout camp quarters inspection).
This is the home, temporarily, for Sam Shuckman (Jared Gilman), an adopted child turned twelve year-old scout member. He resembles a quirkier, younger Jason Scwartzman, with the inquisitiveness of his character from Bored to Death, carrying a whimsical wisdom with him, pipe in hand, and still possessing naïve elementary traits. He falls for Suzy (Kara Hayward), another estranged girl who is implied to have some sort of depression, along with a heavy mascara addiction. She might be a younger Margot (Gywneth Paltrow) from the Tennenbaum family, attracted to Sam even though his spectacled baby face and wimpy figure pale to other scouts his age. To call these two as earlier versions of Anderson veterans however is constricting and imposing.
Sam and Suzy both have curiously deep substance, influenced by their dysfunctional pasts. Their love spawns from a school-play meet cute and subsequent pen pal letters, which over time initiate the date they are to run away together. Sam comically escapes Shawshank style from his tent, meets Suzy in a field, and they traverse the 1960s New England wooded island together, armed with essentials like Suzy’s fantasy novels and Sam’s various ropes and hooks.
What follows is an old-fashioned search party, headed by town police officer Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and accompanied by a
fervently dedicated, anxious Scout Master Ward (Ed Norton) and Suzy’s attorney parents Walt and Laura (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). Captain Sharp has a history with Laura still being played out, Walt has some existential crises on his mind, and Scout Master Ward feels internally responsible for his missing group member. What a team!
The two storylines flip back and forth like pages, bound together by a “narrator,” (Bob Balaban) a muse-like character whose amusing deadpan historical tidbits of the island add to the progressively homey and secluded feel to the film. Sam and Suzy find love in their marginalization and develop a Bridge to Terabithia type romance, secretive and lasting, alone together in nature’s arms. By day they hike and by night Suzy plays her brother’s record player and reads aloud her supernatural fiction books by Sam’s perfectly pitched bonfires.
Their idealist affection must eventually find its reality check, met by the search party and tag-along scout team in Anderson’s iconoclast yellow tent setting a la the dysfunctional Tennenbaum crew. Sam and Suzy continue to isolate themselves and mark their feelings for each other. This manifests itself when they bombard another scout camp and find their prey on one of the scout’s cousins (Jason Schwartzman), forcing him to give them some sort of marriage license. Tilda Swinton also makes an appearance as the bitter “social services woman” and Harvey Keitel sneaks in as Commander Pierce of a neighboring scout camp. The adults in the film feel more one-dimensional, but I’m thankful for it.
In one illustrious and telling scene, Bruce Willis’s character shares a beer with young Sam, who pours out his glass of milk and gladly, naively, receives the beer in the same glass, mixing it with the residual white liquid. They are men, but still children in many different ways. Anderson’s protagonists often have self-serving attitudes that attempt to use others as means to their own happiness. Sam might be selfish for his spontaneous resignation and escape, but his good nature seems to supersede any collateral anxiety felt by others. Walt, Laura, Sharp, and Ward’s spurned reactions are less about the children’s safety and more about reconciling their own parenting, teaching, protective faults and misgivings.
The second half of the film turns more fantastical as a dangerous storm hurdles toward the island, providing continuity amongst Suzy’s novels and Sam’s impressionistic watercolors. These additions aren’t obtrusive to the story; rather, they reaffirm our twelve-year-old perspective and fascination with the extraordinary. Even amongst these flawed guardians and imprisoning romance, the film has such charm and sentiment, cultivated by Anderson’s auteurist spirit.
The island is so inviting, the swatches of primary colors so warm and calming. Moonrise Kingdom is indeed Wes Anderson. Made lovingly, caringly, and quirkily, irresistibly so.