Young love is a difficult thing to put across on screen. As we grow older we forget the purity of our first tentative steps into the world of emotional connections we cannot understand and do not try to defend or define. That which we treat with such consciousness and thought in our older years is, to the young and innocent, something akin to religious faith. They feel it, and so it is true, and no evidence or threats or ideas to the contrary will sway them from their belief in the rightness of it all.
For so long we live under a protective cocoon of general acceptance. Of course some people – peers, mainly – will push us away, but family and the other authoritative adult leaders in our lives seem to be a standard of perfect belonging for us. When we finally begin to break free, the alienation that we feel can be stifling, and to feel another human life break through that sudden void is thrilling, especially if that person shares your sudden loneliness and pain.
More than any film in recent memory, Moonrise Kingdom seems to understand this sensation, this moment of transfigured existence. That it not only comprehends this feeling, but is able to translate it so clearly to film is something to be lauded and appreciated.
Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), two children who are slowly being rejected by not only their peers, but by the adult world which was supposed to protect them, find one another and set out on a journey to create their own world together. Their disappearing act sends the island community of New Penzance into a tailspin, forcing a number of people who thought they knew these children to reevaluate their understanding of them as they seek to bring them home. The earnest, zealous scout master (Edward Norton), the parents of the troubled Suzy (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), and the local cop (Bruce Willis) are just a few of the people affected, forced to realize the limitations of their own lives in the face of the way they affect the children under their care, and vice versa.
The aesthetic fingerprint of co-writer/director Wes Anderson is so distinct that it becomes easy to latch onto it as the sole aspect of his artistry. Anyone searching for a change or evolution of his style in this tale will be left disappointed. Still, I don’t understand the disconnect that this aesthetic creates in some viewers’ minds. Certainly his verve for meticulous compositions, linear camera movements, and deadpan character interactions creates a distancing affect, as well as a sometimes oppressive reality that it is hard to escape from under. The very movements of the characters themselves are tailored to fit into the hermetic world and gaze Anderson creates. On a purely surface level, he is an artisan that not only seems to thrive off of style alone, but has crafted for himself a style that seems to choke any other possible aspect of his work.
So why is it that his films always reach me on such a purely, directly emotional level? Bottle Rocket always makes me think of the friends I have indulged beyond reason purely out of fraternal love. The Royal Tenenbaums leaves me in a state of confused emotional distress at the thought of the nature of fathers and children. Each of his movies carries a through-line of complete loneliness and alienation. This visceral emptiness, and the way it forces its characters to strive and suffer comically for fulfillment, contrasts sharply against the physical world of order and logic to create a beautiful disharmony which underlines the comic absurdity of certain situations while at the same time heightening the emotions on a dramatic level.
Moonrise Kingdom is a perfect example of this. Every character creates a perfectly synchronized environment for themselves. They have routines, actions, and ideas that they have pared and whittled into icons of perfectly contoured comfort. The incident with Sam and Suzy liberates them of these comforts, and to see them find their templates fractured and suddenly ill-fitting is a pleasure. Anderson doesn’t make these rigid tableaus just for fun – though I am sure that some part of him revels in every aspect of their creation. They are reflections of mannered, sheltered, and frightened characters.
Anderson is the perfect director for this material, and indeed it is hard to imagine this tale coming from anyone but him. His films are very childlike in their estimations not only of the world as a physical space, but of people and relationships. The diorama-like sets, the presentness of emotion and obliviousness on the sleeves of all of the characters – these are the hallmarks of someone trying to strip the world of its ambiguity and adult confusion. This is a man who values the purity and certainty of the simpler way we see things before we forget how. Some people may find that simplicity, and the mannered presentation it inspires, to be a distancing element - I find it to be quite the oposite.
This is the manifestation of a unique understanding of the world, presented in a singular way. And Moonrise Kingdom represents the perfect amalgamation of form and idea, a funny, touching, and triumphant view of the importance of never losing sight of that which makes a child smarter than an adult.