Moonrise Kingdom is a great success, both within the context of Wes Anderson’s body of work and as a work unto itself. Initially, however, its Wes- Anderson-y-ness is almost off-putting. At the start of this very mature children’s romance about two pre-teens, the camera tracks through almost every room of a house; the separate but equal nature of each of the house’s various inhabitants is matched with a song from a child’s record, explaining how an orchestra’s sections come together to perform a piece by British composer Benjamin Britten.
The aforementioned sequence is a table setting scene, establishing the film’s main conceit. Similarly, in successive scenes, Anderson’s mise en scene characteristically consists of various objects which stick out like sore thumbs, such as different types of fishing tackle hanging on a wall, or old mailboxes arranged on a shelf behind a telephone switchboard). These objects draw attention to themselves, but, in Anderson’s eyes, they function as parts of a whole. Thankfully, Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola (CQ) demonstrate how difference creates mass unity as the film goes along. No matter how discontent Anderson’s latest film’s protagonists might feel, they are always in concert with the people who care for them.
Moonrise Kingdom is about the cascading repercussions of young love in the small community of New Penzance Island. Sam (Jared Gilman), a talented but “emotionally disturbed” member of the island’s Khaki Scout troop, loves Suzy (Kara Hayward), a self-possessed but “troubled” singer, the only girl in her family’s brood of five children. Suzy’s emotionally estranged parents, Laura and Walt (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) and Scoutmaster Ward (Ed Norton) are beside themselves when they learn that their respective charges have fled. But the search for Sam and Suzy eventually involves almost everyone on New Penzance, including a local Island policeman (Bruce Willis) and a mysterious narrator (Bob Balaban). Every character is an equally important member of Anderson’s wild bunch, even if not all of them are created equally (as in the case of one poor eye-patch-wearing Khaki scout).
That being said, Anderson and Coppola do fully explore the group dynamic aspect of Suzy and Sam’s relationship. Scenes like the one where Laura and Walt talk obliquely about their marriage woes nicely illustrate how it’s possible for Sam and Suzy to be alone together and also with their various friends and surrogate family members.
Anderson typically champions his protagonists’ eccentricities as the means by which they define themselves. But his characters are also often unified by the understanding that excluding each other is pointless, as everybody brings something to the group’s collective table. Even the crueler Khaki scouts learn this lesson in a hilarious scene built around a polemic from a pint-sized (former) bully.
The use of song cues, especially those from Britten’s Noye’s Fludde and Camille Saint-Saens’s Carnival of the Animals, subtlely establishes that characters defined by their difference and unhappiness are always an integral part of the film’s whole. In fact, the characters’ quirks and unhappiness only further embellish Anderson’s comedy of power dynamics.
Simon Abrams is a New York-based freelance arts critic. His film reviews and features have been featured in The Village Voice, Time Out New York, Slant Magazine, The L Magazine, The New York Press and Time Out Chicago. He currently writes TV criticism for The Onion AV Club and is a contributing writer at the Comics Journal. His writings on film are collected at the blog, Extended Cut.