Moonrise Kingdom: misadventures in adolescence

Moonrise Kingdom is a film masterfully directed by Wes Anderson and set in the Winter of 1965 on an island off mainland New England. The film captures the period incredibly well through the use of intensely detailed costumes, a series of nostalgic and quirky sets and a dialogue to match. Composed by long-term collaborator Alexandre Desplat, the dramatic bass complements well the quirky and inviting cinematography so as to highlight the transformational period it attempts to capture. Unlike many recent films, Desplat’s composition of music propels the story forward and builds the scene by adding tone, mood and at times plot.

As do many, I admire Wes Anderson’s ‘style-over-substance’ approach. He traverses this line to prove that it can work effectively. The dialogue is blunt, cutting and harmonises well with the each character’s individual purpose. Mr.Bishop’s wistful speech staring up at the ceiling reads like poetry as he discusses his broken marriage and own self-mourning. Set alongside the aptly named Sam Shakusky’s honest and straight-forward language the universe that Anderson creates demonstrates value through it’s consistent tone and message – be honest and speak beautifully. Furthermore it captures sentiments sympathetically and clearly.

Perhaps what I admire most about this work is the attention to details. As the narrator switches between scenes and images, visual cues are used to elicit an idea or build character on a micro scale.  Anderson emphasises props and specifics in a way not often seen in film. This enriches the message of the temporality of youth Anderson is trying to highlight.

The secluded cove on the island is removed in the storm and we observe at the film’s peak how the teenage memories of the two protagonists move from a thing that ‘was’ to one that no longer ‘is’.The story is of the tale of two children estranged of the people closest in their lives leaving their respective residences to survive alone and in the wild. This reflects the wilderness of teenagehood and the rock that love can be in such a tumultuous time.

Coppola (the writer) recognises the potential of such blunt dialogue and aims to instill a sense of awe in the reader as they sympathise with the characters aspirations, failures and traits. This is complemented well by the use of violence and vulnerability as made clear early in the film. When the dog is brutally killed in a skirmish and death becomes a present theme the reader leaves the comfort of youth and the that of death is fully realised. We are able to feel both extreme comfort  in the beautifully geometric and pleasing cinematography of Yeoman while at the same time recognising the vulnerability.

To continue on one of the film’s strongest elements, Yeoman’s use of cinematography simultaneously draws attention to itself while immersing the viewer even more. Parallels between seemingly formulaic shots emphasise parallels and differences between character’s as well as objects. The use of an almost 2D  set as the camera pans across a scene impresses upon the viewer the symmetry, parallels and differences between characters, locations and moods. The cinematographer draws inspiration from an almost comic book like style in which panning shots are long panels and long panels use silhouettes to create an impression of the scenes purpose and movement. The film is beautifully framed as the pans, zooms and close ups combine expertly into a tapestry of images.

An almost obsessive attention to period details immerses the viewer in the era and creates a convincing setting for the characters to live. The costume design is memorable with khaki trousers, spotted dressers and feathers in purple hats alongside objects such as the tape-recorder. Everything is perfectly arranged to accentuate it’s own quirky style. This specific attention to detail is reflected in the way each character is individually deconstructed as well as in the child’s guide to the orchestra in the narration both at the end and beginning. This includes the sadness of the police officer, the desire to be a full time scout leader by Master Ward and Suzy’s feeling of rejection. The neatness of the scenes reflects how neatly these characters are given depth and deconstructed.

Anderson is a very visual oriented director but also values acting talent and the appearance of his characters to sharpen his work. Using speech and stature for depth the film is able to mould characters around the cast’s physical traits and strengths in a way that delivers a clear message without the confusion of an oversimplified set of characters. In particular Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward deliver great young performances as they modulate their voices and expressions in a way that delivers an unique chemistry  most can relate to. Although it is unclear whether the young actors are talented overall, their casting in this film was a strategic and intuitive move. In particular, Jason Schwartzman’s performance in the beach scene and his nonchalance when challenged is extremely funny.

The film in it’s most simplest form is about the misadventures of teenagehood. The adults struggle with responsibility and the moral confines of adulthood just as the true teenagers struggle with new aspects of their lives and personalities. The self loathing of Suzy and the careless rebelliousness of Sam is complemented by the club of scouts, who through concise and impactful dialogue, are able to broaden the range of reactions to new and intense dilemmas.  This is contrasted against the characters that limit themselves, keep themselves in their shells as shown by the decisions and paths of character’s. Edward Norton’s character Master Ward strives to be a leader; disciplined and nurturing. The flood tests this and he emerges the hero, a leader in a true crisis. In many ways we see the other path through the character of Captain Sharp – a single man, isolated and defeated by life’s challenges who is given a second chance by the flood and it’s consequences. It is perhaps the motif of the flood as a representation of teenagehood’s challenges that confronts the maleability of the human spirit.

The colour palette of each scene set against the almost artistic closeups of letters, documents and photos are a callback to a more art orientated period of film-making and are complimented by the Super 16mm film to re impress the period.  This is complemented well by the strange – a motorcycle in a tree, an abnormally high tree-house and a secret meeting spot that is not so secret which tributes the extraordinary really seen in real life. The pacing of the film itself work’s admirably as humour and sentiment combine to ensure there is never a dull moment. The viewer at times feels compelled to suspend belief as the fantastical and improbable happenings of the film collide in a way that is self-aware and entertaining. The viewer recognises that those involved had a clear vision of impossible moments for them to relish.

The cast is able to effortlessly relay the stellar script of Anderson and Coppola. A standout for me was Bill Murray’s performance as Suzy’s father. Anderson’s style alongside Murray’s deliverance of dry humour decorate the film intelligently and joyously. A surprise performance appears in the form of Bruce Willis, who throws off his action-movie guise for a more emotionally stirring and self-deprecating character. Most of all, however, the main characters Sam and Suzy are directed perfectly eliciting a sense of vulnerability as well as a strong chemistry which invests the audience in their story. Narrated by Bob Balaban to humorous perfection, the film intersplices interjections into it’s story and warns of a storm. This creates a sense of foreboding which escalates to a final act that packs an emotional punch.

Despite what Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic might indicate ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is an imperfect movie in one particular way. In my eyes, it seems a missed opportunity that the consistent flat emotional aesthetic of each character is not broken during the film’s dramatic narrative. This would elevate the film and makes it at least partly anti-climactic. Sam and Suzy need to deliver an emotional punch stronger than a knowing glance on the top of the church roof: it defines them as they emerge from a transitional period matured. Those who do not recognise Wes Anderson’s style’s purpose may be distracted by it’s whimsical and strange style. The flat characters may irritate those cannot understand their purpose or see it as pretentious in it’s attempt to be original and contradict conventions.

It is at once obvious that the director is making the film he wants, unrestricted by unwarranted creative input which gives the film a sense of fullness and warmth to the film. Wes Anderson’s work cleverly hides beneath the surface of a simple plot the adorableness of it’s narrative and the fullness of each scene. Utilising adult themes of rejection and repressed love the film is intelligent and surprising.  Overall Anderson has made a wholly original and biting film with an articulately and intelligently expressed story that balances well an iconic style with a wonderful soundtrack and stunning visuals.



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