The all-star cast of Wes Anderson’s latest offering, Moonrise Kingdom, is balanced by the fresh performances of its first-time leads. Anderson creates in this portrait of childhood imagination, a cinematic wonder where script and performance fuse to create one of the best films of the year. Bill Murray, Edward Norton and Bruce Willis each deliver their own quirky characterisation that deserve plaudit in and of themselves; however, it is through Jared Gilman and Kara Heyward that this film excels.
To describe Moonrise Kingdom as a romantic-comedy would be to vastly simplify the complex workings of the drama; however, it is through this frame that the film operates. Orphan and wayward-scout Sam Shukusky (Gilman) deserts his troop in order to join his one love, Suzy Bishop (Heyward), as they travel across the fictitious isle of New Penzance in search of adventure. The children’s disappearance prompts an island-wide search, lead by concerned father Walt Bishop (Murray), Scout leader (Norton) and local policeman, Captain Sharp (Willis). As dreams and reality collide the two children find that their idealised view of love is complicated by the small-town mentality of the island people.
The script, written by Anderson in collaboration with Roman Coppola, sees a return to the cerebral and contemplative tone that marked their previous collaboration, The Darjeeling Limited. Much like their 2007 creation, Moonrise Kingdom combines the familiar metaphor of physical journey with spiritual self-discovery. Neither Sam nor Suzy are tamed by their encounter but a certain calm descends when they find themselves alone on one of the island’s idyllic beaches. Indeed, one cannot help but view this scene, which occupies the centre of the film, as some pre-lapsarian return to Eden. In a moment of unsensualised experimentation the two children kiss, before Suzy offers to let Sam touch her breast; their burgeoning awareness of sexual identity – they are only twelve years old – is innocently explored but horrifying to the conservative perspective of their adult guardians. However, Anderson at no point makes the suggestion that this love is inauthentic; indeed, by contrasting it with the failing marriage of the Bishop parents and the hopeless affair between Mrs. Bishop and Captain Sharp, we see that the bond between Suzy and Sam is the most sincere on the island.
The young age of the child actors and their characters focalizes the often forgotten realisation that the lovers in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet are equally youthful. It is a salient reminder in this film that such love need not appear naïve or insincere; however, fortunately Anderson’s pair survive their ordeal, albeit with one moment near the end in which they appear prepared to follow their Renaissance counterparts.
Through a deliberate defamiliarisation of setting, Anderson is able to carefully control the action and reaction of his characters. Placing the film in 1965, a period brilliantly realised through a heavily pastelled film-palate, Anderson distances the viewer from the socio-political make-up of the film. Whilst the radical implications of the ‘free-love’ movement have certainly not reached this out-of-the-way island community, it is with the benefit of hindsight that we begin to see shadows of liberal politics mapped onto their relationships; from the innocent sexual fumbling between Suzy and Sam, to their faux-marriage under Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman), one gets the overwhelming sense that love transcends institutions.
Anderson’s films have a tendency to beg further questions, opening out meaning rather than closing it off; however, it is important not to over-analyse Moonrise Kingdom and, in doing so, cut oneself off from the playfulness of the film. It is funny throughout; humour achieved through choice turns of phrase and intelligent cinematography. For those for whom Moonrise Kingdom is their first experience of the director’s work, this is a perfect entry point into his creative world; for those who have already experienced his style, this is another example of why Anderson cannot be ignored by any serious film-lover.
W. J. Humphries