Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Heyward, Bruce Willis, Ed Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton
Director: Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is not only a story of the power of first love but also the way that children create the mythology of adulthood through the fabric of stories. The world approaches us first wrapped as tales, and we handle its mysteries with imagination. The largest part of reality, even as we age, remains a contradictory act of abstraction.
This has been a quietly placed theme in the films of Terrence Malick, including last year’s Cannes winner The Tree of Life. The children first imagine death as Sleeping Beauty laying in a glass coffin in the woods. They learn of time, property and death from a story about a rabbit in a garden. Even earlier, an infant learns the animals with a small toy Noah’s Ark – the first taste of a wider reality is an act of representation.
Speaking of Noah, it’s been an unexpectedly good year for him at the movies, with his presense felt throughout Moonrise. Robed and in sandals, he might as well sail into Cannes’ red carpet (where Moonrise debuted in competition). Of course when you think about it, Noah’s Ark is our first love story, with perhaps the first glimpses of sexuality that we see as children.
The love story in Wes Anderson’s brilliant young adult fantasy begins at a church performance of the Benjamin Britten musical Noye’s Fludde. Sam is an unpopular Khaki Scout with precocity, defiance and good camping skills. Suzie is the daughter of a pair of loveless lawyers; she lives in a storybook lighthouse on the isolated New England island of New Penzance. Her role in the play is the raven, that most tempestuous of birds, though a red-headed outburst will soon see her demoted to a blue jay.
The couple meets in a field one year later to elope to a beach – him with an airgun, a coonskin hat, and a corncob pipe; her with a blue suitcase, a record player, sci-fi books, a kitten and dreams of adventure. Don’t be thrown by the age – they are every bit as passionate, sincere and liberated as Jean-Paul Belomondo and Ana Karina in Pierrot Le Fou, using the radical edge of love to escape the docility that surrounds them. They are both experiencing love as a fiction and love on its purest level.
Tracing them are a flock of kind but broken adults – the sadsack parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), a lone pokey policeman (Bruce Willis), a teacher who wishes he could be a scout master every day (Ed Norton). There is also a social services worker, dressed in electric blue, who has been so consumed by adulthood that she no longer has a name.
This pair of lovestruck tweens are rushing into adulthood, and the adults are longing for childhood. Anderson has been playing with this idea since at least Rushmore, and it is a predominant inspiration for the film. In relocating that feeling of first love, as well as the nostalgia for that feeling, Moonrise Kingdom brings it home with humor and elegance.
That’s all I would say if it were not for the extraordinary craft, which cannot go without a mention. Anderson’s love of widescreen compositions (from cinematographer), detailed art direction, and perpendicular filming of actors and activity are at their prime in Moonrise Kingdom. His reputation has made him a spaz to some detractors, but here it is at its most inspiring effect. The script that he and Roman Coppola have composed is a gem of brains, humor and heart.