The biggest treat last the summer was Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. It is a sweet, nostalgic story of a twelve-year-old couple who run away together, and the search party looking for them, on a small New England island in the 1960s. Among the a large cast of young actors are more seasoned and familiar faces that bring their support to letting the two tween leads shine. The final product becomes a beautiful film with a distinct style both visually and emotionally.
Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan Khaki Scout and Suzy (Kara Hayward) is the eldest child, misunderstood by her family. Their relationship is sweet and mildly innocent without any cliche mush. Sam is a gentleman, using his scouting skills to lead the way, catch dinner and keep a tidy campsite. Suzy brings a borrowed record player, a kitten and reads her stolen library books to Sam by the fire. Their day alone together must have easily been the best of their young lives and we share their joy as they claim that beach as their own.
However, a small group of adults and Khaki Scouts are pursuing them to no end. Suzy’s parents, Laura (Frances McDormand) and Walt (Bill Murray) are furious and worried, bringing their three sons in tow. Having already lost Sam, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) awkwardly leads his scouts in the search, with no real control. The remaining scouts don’t really care for Sam, and are prepared to take him by force. And as Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), the town’s police officer, searches for Sam and Suzy, he becomes more and more invested in what will happen to Sam once he is found.
There are two themes in the film that really shined through for me that I didn’t connect fully on my initial viewing. First is how the simple theme from Noah’s Ark comes into play. At the wonderfully elaborate church’s production of Noah’s Ark, that the whole town seems to either be in or watching, Sam and Suzy first meet. Later in the film, a storm hits the island, bringing new dangers, challenges and wonderful images of a threatening flood. The olive branch extended in the end will warm your heart.
Second is the idea of an orchestra. The film starts with Suzy’s brothers listening to a record where each section of instruments is introduced and it helps illustrate their individual roles in the music. The same idea is present in the film, and each section of characters are introduced individually so we understand their different tones. While Suzy and Sam provide a beautiful melody, they are nothing without Suzy’s family, Captain Sharp and Scout Master Ward behind them and everything keeps to the beat of those Khaki Scouts, with Social Services (Tilda Swinton) and the narrator (Bob Balaban) having brief but important solos.
Visually, Moonrise Kingdom keeps to Wes Anderson’s usual style. We see most scenes from a very straightforward perspective and usually the focus of the screen is centered. Most scenes are very symmetrical. This makes scenes with Suzy and Sam in the woods stand out more, and feel more relaxed and free. It’s harder to find such rigid geometry in nature.
In the end, I believe Moonrise Kingdom will be remembered as that wonderful film we share with kids for generations to come. It only got one Oscar nomination, for best original screenplay, but it feels like it deserves so much more. However, with such young lead actors and such a dense field in their year, it just didn’t pick up as much merit as its competition.
“It’s been proven by history: all mankind makes mistakes.”