Well, there really is very little not to love about Moonrise Kingdom, the first live action movie from director Wes Anderson in the five long years since Darjeeling Limited. It’s an affecting, sweet love story with charm to spare and it’s all very Andersonian as always. Firstly, it’s really funny, and there are some beautiful images captured on screen, some sweet editing as per usch and also great use of sound, especially in the percussion family. Oh, and a narrator that is a favourite as character and device.
Moonrise Kingdom offers a very endearing view on childhood as a time of adventure and freedom. In our lead characters, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), we have two very unhappy and troubled children. Sam is an orphan, “emotionally disturbed” and unwanted by his foster parents, while Suzy has fits of uncontrollable rage and has her parents baffled as to how to treat her. Together they find sanctuary from their despair by way of love, as one evening during a church production of Noye’s Fludde (or Noah’s Flood) Sam wanders into the girls’ dressing room to find Suzy dressed as a raven and striking like a miniature Lana del Rey, might I add.
They proceed to plot an escape from their respectively unbearable lives by running away together. Hot in pursuit are the khaki scouts from whom Sam has absconded, led by Edward Norton’s Scout Master Ward in a winningly boyish and lovable performance and Bruce Willis’ in an impressive, free-of-flash turn as the quietly tragic policeman Captain Sharp. And also Suzy’s concerned parents played by Bill Murray and Francis McDormand, who only realise by nightfall that she’s flown the coop also occupied by three little brothers.
We follow Sam and Suzy at a zippy tempo further and further into the woods and it’s cute to see how the whole situation turns into a scouting exercise, both for the assailants/rescue party (comically, the children themselves seem to be conflicted about this) and for Sam, the finest scout of them all. The picture is grainy and slighty desaturated in autumnal colours giving it a nostalgic feel to match the 1965 setting. And the movie takes on the rhythms of a survival-style documentary, with the children delivering their lines in an unpracticed yet natural style. Gilman and especially Hayward acquit themselves wonderfully.
They finally make it to a beach and declare it their land, a symbolic gesture of making their own way in life away from the constraints imposed by the adults. They even rename it for the occasion. Here they go from friendship to young love, discovering such joys as french kissing and heavy petting. This came as a bit of a surprise for me, but it’s appropriate I guess, it’s a time of exploration both geographically and emotionally/personally. But this doesn’t last. This land they’ve settled is a false paradise. While they hide away in their tent, Suzy’s dad illustrates how flimsy this fantasy of theirs is by simply lifting the tent and leaving them exposed.
The fantasy part of the movie picks up at this point, and at times the movie is very reminiscent of Anderson’s previous stop motion effort, The Fantastic Mr Fox. There’s fantastical explosions, lightning strikes and at one point a daring jump by Edward Norton is shown to be ridiculous as he makes it with considerable ease.
The biggest element of the fantasy though is that we have kids playing at being adult. This serves up some hilarious melodrama and moments of gravity. For example, “I love you but you don’t know what you’re talking about” or “Was he a good dog? Who’s to say?” or, my favourite, Suzy’s little brother admonishing her with, “You’re a traitor to this family!” And what this is saying is that, for all their wanting to rid themselves of the idiotic adults and be together, they cannot escape becoming adults themselves.
And what waits for them is greater unhappiness. The adults in the movie have little clue of what they’re doing and not only are they unhappy but they also don’t even have love. I wish Bill Murray could’ve had a bigger role in the movie, but he still gets two of the best lines. One: “I’m going to find a tree to chop down.” It was funny in the trailer and still funny in the movie. But it actually underpins a deep sadness of a man who is lost in his marriage, only staying together for the kids without a way of dealing with his anguish. This brings me to the second: “I wish the roof would blow off and I’d be sucked into space.” The adults can’t just run away. That’s just something we try when we’re little. They’re stuck with their misery.
But maybe there is hope to hold on to. The flood comes but life returns to the Earth afterwards and maybe for Sam and Suzy things will be different. We want things for them to be different. A strong theme throughout the movie is of predicting the future and how (unless you’re the narrator) there’s just no way of doing that. And still we are left with the joy and innocence and outright fun of this movie, and that frozen moment in time on the beach.