While some of you may be curious why a review of this film is found on the site, Andy and I felt that this film and others by Wes Anderson fall into the “cult” film category and thus would be appropriate since Destroy the Brain! covers horror, cult, and all cinema fantastique. Thank you for reading.
The role of cinema is to take an illusion and present it in a way that people can relate to it. Film as a whole sometimes attempts to transcend this mode of storytelling and convey a sense of reality that feels as tangible of an experience as that of the viewer sitting in the theater, eating their popcorn, and watching that said film. The popularity of hand-held, found-footage films is a precise example of this. However, there are some directors who take solace in the idea of film existing for film’s sake. There are no camera tricks or sound editing to try to convince the viewer otherwise, some films simply take pleasure in existing as an artform to express a story and ideas. The most prominent director working today that seems to encapsulate this idea wholeheartedly is Wes Anderson. His films all center around very human feelings and stories but they are extremely superficial in a way that is almost “hyper-fictional.” Whether it is the overly designed sets, too clean to have ever been worn in real life costumes, or the obvious directing that comes across as stage directing, the filmography of Wes Anderson showcases an auteur who is well aware he is making a movie. Before anyone bombards me with hate mail, I feel the need to articulate that I mean all of these things in a good way. I am an Anderson devotee. Though his whimsical style comes with a sense of refocusing and a re-adapting of previous notions of film, I feel his films speak to the idea that something so artificial can invoke such human feelings. Well . . . isn’t that the point of cinema anyway?
Off the coast of New England in the 1960’s, a young boy (Jared Gilman) sneaks away from his boyscout troop one day to meet-up with his “long distance” pen pal (Kara Hayward) after weeks of writing to one another. The kids’ disappearance triggers a search around the island resulting in the town’s people’s lives to be turned upside down.
Like all of Wes Anderson’s films, the characters in Moonrise Kingdom are all presented in a serious manner even if they seem to have as much dimension as a paper doll on the surface. Edward Norton looks like he stepped out of the pages of a boy-scout pamphlet from the 60’s and Tilda Swinton’s ensemble is almost as stiff and tailored as her strict disposition. Thankfully Roman Coppola and Anderson’s script comes off as a heartfelt adoration of these small town stereotypes. You have the lovesick police officer, the overly eager troop leader, and the unhappy mother; all of whom come to life in the hands of Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and Frances McDormand. It’s not a surprise that the veteran cast members seem to understand their quaint characters’ lives much more than the two young leads. It’s a shame that the two leads look the part more than actually becoming the childhood lovers that we are meant to empathize with. Several scenes where the two are forced to handle the script’s quirky dialogue come off as stilted and awkward. Then again maybe that’s the point. Maybe we are supposed to be reminded of the immaturity of kids and not get completely swept away in their ‘love’ for one another.
For all the praise the astute director has received over the years for his meticulous set design, precise 60’s music selection, and dry sense of humor, his films have all kind of felt the same. Moonrise Kingdom exists as both a rehashing of past ideas while also acting as a slight departure into new territory. The most obvious new element that fans of his work will acknowledge is the fact that the majority of the film takes place outside in nature. Whether it is a boy-scout camp, the middle of the woods, a dock overlooking the ocean, or simply just a discussion in front of a house, a deliberate effort seems to be made to avoid the grandiose interiors that became characters in themselves in The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited. As a nod to his fans and their expectations, Anderson begins the film with a dolly shot revealing a cross-section of the young female lover’s house before quickly leaving behind the bookshelves and bright wallpaper for the natural beauty of the woods and the ocean. Outside of the locations of the film, the other refreshing change many will notice is the use of classical music and country/folk standards. Long gone are the tracks by Simon and Garfunkel and Nico that laid the musical backdrop before. Those iconic songs of the 60’s have been replaced with compositions written by the composer Benjamin Britten and several tunes displaying the country heartbreak of Hank Williams.
Even when a Wes Anderson film comes across as “just okay” – I’m speaking to The Darjeeling Limited here – it’s still a Wes Anderson film. His “rulebook” or bag of tricks does seem to feel a little tired after seven feature length films. Each of the films do bring an interesting element to his “hyper-fictional” universe even if they don’t completely reinvent the wheel each time. I have always felt that Wes Anderson’s films seem to be the distant cousin of the work of French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. They both share many visual sensibilities but more evident is what I was referring to before: they both celebrate the idea of film existing as a film. In Godard’s 1965 Pierrot le Fou, a character is seen getting hit in the face with a pie at a party. Instead of showing the obvious image of the pie hitting the victim’s face, Godard eschews expectations by cutting to an image of a firework exploding in the night’s sky. Moonrise Kingdom does a similar cut when Suzy and Sam have to fight off their pursuers in the woods. The journey of Sam and Suzy in Moonrise Kingdom is also quite similar to the leads in Pierrot le Fou played memorably by Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Both couples seem to be escaping from their ordinary lives by heading out on an adventure in both the physical and metaphorical sense. It’s also hard to see Kara Hayward as Suzy and not think of Anna Karina as she poses doe-eyed in cutesy, retro-fitted dresses.
The journey depicted in Moonrise Kingdom isn’t as significant as Max’s in Rushmore nor does it convey the heartbreaking beauty of Royal and his siblings in The Royal Tenenbaums, but it does fit nicely on the shelf with the previous work of Wes Anderson. It’s not going to win over cynics of his who favor emotional depth over Anderson’s knack for charm. Then again, after seven films, we might as well come to terms with the fact that the director isn’t going to change. Whether for better or for worse.