To all y’all who read this, I’m sorry it has taken me soooo blasted long to post this. What can I say, I’m slow…
Anywho, Wes Anderson movies have always made me superexcited. I find him to be one of the most mythically in tune filmmakers of the moment. The first of his films that I saw was The Royal Tenenbaums. I remember being struck by several things while I watched that film. These apply to all the Wes Anderson Films I’ve seen.
First, these films have an incredible aesthetic. Anderson has this uncanny ability to wield his own version of magical realism. His use of color is simultaneously bold and muted. I’m not really sure how else to describe it. Somehow, in the cosmos of these slightly matte, vintage-y films, the unreal becomes authentic. There is a quality in these films that captures the experience of memory.
Second, the use of humor. The writing in Wes Anderson films is ALWAYS genius. The dry humor of The Fantastic Mr. Fox kills me. I think Roald Dahl would be proud of what he did with this work. And it’s smart and quirky. These films capture the best qualities of the hipster movement without the inevitable hipster pretention.
Third, and now I get to the point of this blog, these films walk a balance between sanitizing a subject and living in a state of innocence. Many balk at the word innocence, as though it means repression or denial. The etymological root of the word innocent is old French. It does denote chastity and blamelessness, but in its earliest usage it was also used to denote a lack of guile or artifice. Wes Anderson films capture that aspect of innocence. They are vehicles for truth, which they present with their own brand of quirky artlessness. Moonrise Kingdom is a clear example of this unsanitized innocence.
I find it significant that this film is set in 1965. This was a period of awakening for America. The assassination of President Kennedy shattered America’s idyllic images of Camelot, and the March on Washington took America to task for equality. Both of these events happened in 1963. Furthermore, the early rumblings of our interference in Vietnam were going on behind closed doors. By 1965, America’s involvement in Vietnam was out of the closet, but again the “rumblings” of “times a’changin'” were just beginning to land on the radar of mainstream America.
This is the world of Moonrise Kingdom. It is the environment from which the two protagonists, two tweenage kids named Suzy Bishop and Sam Shakusky run away. Both of these young people are orphaned in different ways. Suzy’s parents (the genius pair Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) live in a state of emotional disconnect. They consider Suzy to be a problem child…quite literally…the even have a book on it. They THINK they are trying to help her, but in reality they have patronized, shamed, and alienated her. Frankly, they are alienated even from each other. Suzy’s mom carries on an affair with the local sheriff (Bruce Willis). She sneaks out every afternoon to meet him, but it doesn’t even really seem like she has a true connection with him either.
Sam, by contrast, is an actual orphan. No one at camp is aware of this. They only become aware of it when he runs away. His troop/camp leader, the adorably nerdy Edward Norton, is scandalized when he and the sheriff discover that not only is Sam an orphan but that he has been invited “not to return” by his foster family. These two young people form a mutual connection because of this alienation.
Sam sees Suzy for the first time when she is dressed in a raven costume during a stage production of the Noah myth. Birds are often an image of death, transformation, and/or a metaphor for the soul. His reaction to Suzy is deep and soulful (“what kind of bird are YOU?”) He reaches out to her on an energetic level, recognizing in an instant that his wounding matches hers. After this initial meeting, they become pen pals. Their communication is intimate (“he does landscapes and a few nudes”). They hold nothing back, and eventually decide to plan a ritual quest out across Native American trails; an attempt to ritualize a kind of creation myth and thus create their own identities separate from the abandonment they’ve experienced.
Throughout this quest–while being pursued to crazy campers (poor Snoopy), piercing Suzy’s ears with fishhooks, and the wonderful sexual awakening they experience while dancing on the beach in their underwear–the attachment between Suzy and Sam becomes more intense and more authentic. It becomes a connection that no one (not even the hater adults in their lives) can break. In the end, it transforms everyone around them. It becomes a mature love made of quiet participation in each other’s interests: reading, painting, music…a connection of the soul.
I love that Wes Anderson is able to do this. And he does it in ALL of his movies. He finds joy in dysfunction. He finds life in trauma. And he makes it beautiful. He fills his films with unsanitized innocence.