Around half-way through Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, I was struck with a strange case of deja vu. I had been here before- the tale of two young people who come from rough family lives running away to beautiful beach after beach is not unfamiliar to the world of cinema. Sixty years before Anderson released Moonrise Kingdom, Ingmar Bergman released Summer with Monika, a tale of startling similarities, though very notable differences. Monika is grounded in realness, with a black and white color scheme and anything but a happy ending. Anderson’s world is one of the absurd- bright color schemes and children who smoke out of a pipe. It is from this difference that Anderson illustrates his key argument. The world is not out to get us; the only thing preventing humans from entering paradise is each other.
The film opens with a few picturesque shots of a house followed by a narrator’s (played by Bob Balbadan) warning. The island of New Penzance is about to undergo a massive fire, but that is quickly followed up by more whimsical picturesque shots and his grim warning is temporarily forgotton. It is then that we are introduced to our two protagonists: Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) an orphan boy currently in the Khakhi Scouts, with undeniable survival skills, but a lack of social skills and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) a girl wrapped up in the fantasy world of the books she steals, who, suripsing given her quiet nature, has a propensity to lash out, often physically. Both share a longing for adventure, and perhaps more pertinantly, to feel special. When asked why she steals books from the library, Suzy admits that she “just [takes] them to have a secret to keep.” It seems as if neither character truely belives that they will get be able to run away together. They just want to play out the fantasy, even if it’s for a moment.
Play out is a key phrase in this movie as the characters in the world of Moonrise Kingdom all seem to be aware that they are simply going through the motions. Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) tells Sam he is sorry for Sam’s loss because “that’s what you’re supposed to say.” The shots are all short in nature, with almost no long shots in the entire film. That said, the characters aren’t in a hurry per say; their actions have already been played out. The only characters who attempt to go against these pre-destinted actions are Sam and Suzy and even they seemed resigned to their fate in the film’s penultimate scene. And because of this rebellion Sam and Suzy are seen as “abnormal.” Moonrise Kingdom challenges the concept of normality itself. Why, in a world that in no way seems conventional-where a 12 year old rides a motorcycle, people’s outfits match their house, and a child can get struck by lightning and seem fine-why in this world are children not allowed to fall in love? It reeks of arbitrarity, and makes the viewer question their own view on social norms.
The only thing ruining Sam and Suzy’s new found paradise is society. As I mentioned earlier, Moonrise Kingdom moves at an extremely fast pace, with seldom a long shot, which makes the scene in which Sam and Suzy finally get caught stand out even more. For a moment everything is still, as the fantasy the two protagonists shared, crumbles around them. This shot, with a beautiful ocean scenery and wonderful use of colors is the most hard-hitting in the film. It is the one time that none of the characters seem to be reading off the script. It is the one time we as a viewer are forced to confront reality. And Anderson makes it clear to the viewer what caused this scene to occur. It litters the shot like garbage in a beautiful suburban neighborhood- people. Not New Penzance Island or Snoopy the search dog. People ruined Sam and Suzy’s paradise, and it is ony through people that their paradise is eventually restored.
This being said, Moonrise Kingdom is in no way without fault. His use of montage, though understandable, comes off as unimaginative at times. The acting can feel lazy and there are a few story lines and characters that could have and should have been delved deeper into (such as the affair or Edsard Norton’s goofy Scoutmaster Ward) in place of countless scenes of adults fighting or that very uncomfortable romance scene on the beach (I understand it added to the absurd world Anderson was creating but at the same times it just weirds me out that anybody is asking 13 year olds to do this). Much like the world he creates, Anderson’s film isn’t perfect. But it is plenty enjoyable.