To those familiar with Wes Anderson’s previous work, it’ll come as no surprise that Moonrise Kingdom, his latest opus, is one of the most uplifting films of the year. To be fair, it also doesn’t deviate from the style we have to come to accept as unique to Anderson, but the demeanor of his films is so unique among his contemporaries that it’s my opinion that Anderson making a film which was radically different from his other work would mark the loss of a singular voice in cinema. As such, Moonrise Kingdom is doubtful to convert those unimpressed by the ‘typical’ fare offered by the filmmaker, but those that count themselves among Anderson’s fans, or are simply unfamiliar with his work, owe it to themselves to see Moonrise Kingdom.
The film begins with the mysterious elopement, in the summer of 1965, mere three days before a cataclysmic storm, of twelve-year-old Sam Shakusky from a scout camp on the fictional island of New Penzance. Scout Master Ward, portrayed with genuine sensitivity and concern by Edward Norton, springs to action hoping to find young Sam (Jared Gilman, a first time actor that we are sure to hear from again soon) before he hurts himself. He is assisted in this task Bruce Willis’ character Captain Sharp, the only police officer on the island. One of the other characters aptly describes Captain as being “kind of sad”, and it’s tough to argue that point, but that makes him Willis’ most approachable character in at least five years. As the film’s focus switches, quite quickly, to Sam’s journey, it becomes apparent that the purpose of his escapade is to meet with, and run away with, Suzy Bishop, played by Kara Hayword, another talented young actress. The two young lovers escape to a small inlet, where they quickly set up a child-sized, yet remarkably emotionally mature, paradise. In the meantime, Scout Master Ward and Captain Sharp find out that Sam is an orphan, and is about to thrown out of his foster home.
While the two runaways are inevitably tracked down, and are forced to flee again, and the situation becomes dire for indeed for many of the characters, the film never becomes bleak. Through the cinematography, camera movements, music, and overall stylization of the movie, which are simultaneously stock for Anderson and a delight to behold every time, we are brought into a world which doesn’t exist any longer, and indeed may never have. Anderson, himself born in 1969, evidently feels a sense of nostalgia for a time he doesn’t himself remember, a sentiment whose mere acknowledgment in other people tends to put me personally at ease. The film is narrated by Bob Balaban in a style reminiscent of old travel documentaries, a genre already heavily borrowed from by Anderson in his film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
The rest of Anderson’s usual cast, naturally, is also there – Jason Schwartzman makes an appearance as a surprisingly willing assistant in the young couple’s escape, going so far as to marry the two twelve-year-olds. Bill Murray find in the role of Suzy’s father one of his most unlikable characters, justified though his actions may be. The notable difference in this movie is the absence of the last name Wilson in the cast credits (Luke and Owen Wilsons being among Anderson’s most common collaborators).
Overall, the tone of the film leaves one walking out of the cinema ready to fall in love, adopt an intelligent and sensitive orphan, and help facilitate his own budding romance. The reality portrayed on the screen is idealized, yes, and we’re aware that outside the immediate bounds of the shot, everything may not be as beautiful or ideal – after all, there are hints of death, bullying, and genuine depression in this film. The filmmaker, however, chooses to dwell on a release from those self-destructive impulses, and instead give us a glimmer of hope towards something brighter – perhaps in the form of the marriage, however unusual, of two twelve-year-olds.