"I love you ba-aby, but you gotta understand.
When the lord made me. He made me a ramblin' man."
The year is 1965. The sepia soaked celluloid immediately orients us in uniquely symmetrical cinematic space. Welcome to a Wes Anderson movie.
A field of tall grasses displayed in a wide shot, two children are in the frame. A girl on the left and a boy on the right. The girl in a pink jumper and bobby socks is carrying a yellow suitcase, a portable record player and a wicker basket, something meows from inside it. The boy is decked out from head to toe in khaki, merit badges, a coon skin hat and a backpack with two small sleeping bags hanging underneath. We meet Sam (Jared Gilman) through the Suzy's binoculars, her magic power as she calls them. They help her to see things, even when they are up close. Sam, gazing sweetly at Suzy (Kara Hayward) also sees the world through lens. His wide black frames consume his small face. The two meet in the field with no name and hatch a plan to leave their worlds behind and travel together into the unknown (or as far as the map they have will take them). It turns out they met the year earlier in a very enigmatic fashion. As if struck by some magical arrow, niether Sam or Suzy would ever be the same from that moment on.
The island of New Penzance is the perfect stomping ground for Anderson's usual suspects. A few new faces grace his fairytale setting. Frances McDormand, plays Mrs. Bishop, Suzy's disillusioned and achingly lonely mother. Bruce Willis plays Captain Sharp, the sweet but somewhat absent-minded town policeman set to find the missing kids. Edward Norton plays Scout Master Ward, a man with the best of intentions for his small Khaki scout charges but who ultimately is unable to keep them under wraps. Bob Balaban plays the narrator, lovely in a heavy red coat and small snow hat and gloves. He takes us through the storybook that is Moonrise Kingdom.
This is the seventh feature film by Wes Anderson, the first of which began with Bottle Rocket (1996). Building on and expanding from his previous work, Anderson takes his characters out into the wilderness and out of the cookie cutter world they normally inhabit. Anderson uses a lot of hand-held camerawork and sets out to create a lot of movement with his characters and the space they inhabit onscreen. Unlike his previous work, Anderson allows his characters room to breathe here. They are stuck in the enclosed space of a small island but they can roam "free" within the space. The location shooting is still seeping with Anderson's visual style; symmetry abounds, even in the woods. There is a particularly Andersonian shot with a police station-wagon, a flag and a lighthouse, set side-by-side, all matching perfectly. His visual style is his most impactful mark as a filmmaker and his fans wait years to see what new worlds Anderson has been creating. His characters are always set up to inhabit a piece of celluloid that is uniquely their own. There are also plenty of the tracking shots that have become synonymous in Anderson's films, creating a specific orientation of space. They are stiking in Moonrise because they occur both inside and out. The camera is set up as if it's an active audience member, the characters have set the stage onscreen and the camera moves along a stationary plane, acting as the shifting eyes of the audience. We learn about the characters as they learn about themselves.
Moonrise Kingdom harks the same lyrical melancholy present in all of Anderson's films. Music directly influences the tone of the film, the characters and their emotional state of mind. Several songs in the film are by cowboy country legend Hank Williams. His twangy blues perfectly represent the quiet surrender of the adults in this film; all struggling with their adult problems that seem to pale in comparison with the angst of being young. Moonrise constantly toes the line between somber melancholy and sweet joy. It seems that New Penzance is an island of misfits. Parents act like children and children act like adults in this topsy turvy world of imagination. Anderson creates a world within the frame that alerts the audience that we are in a fantastical expression of reality. The dramas and actions of the characters of this film are extreme but completely believable expressions of loss, love and beauty. We can find a part of ourselves in all the characters onscreen, we have all been there; lost in the throes of first loves, dying loves, unfulfilled dreams and jobs that change who we are. We are Sam and Suzy at the same time. Anderson encourages us to find that sense of childish wonder singed with bitter realization of future disillusionment and get lost in love. The marching musical themes creates a calling to arms, a sense that both real and imagined doom is not far off on the horizon. The threat of a hurricane looms in reality while the emotional storms of the characters on Penzance churn as well.
Storytelling is of the utmost importance in this imaginative tale. Suzy packs a bright yellow suitcase to run away with; filled to the brim with stolen library books with stories of fantasies and mythical muses. There are several instances in the film where Suzy reads aloud from these books (the stories themselves created by Anderson and cover artwork commissioned specifically for the film). She invites us into the imaginative world that she so yearns to belong to.
The film almost feels as if Wes made a book for his audience to climb inside, making us long for a time gone by. A time where your favorite record, dancing in your underwear on the beach, and sweetly falling into your first kiss, is all you will ever need. At the end of this film, as the camera tilts down to Sam's just- finished painting, we all want our own private Moonrise Kingdom.
Suzy and Sam
Mr. Bishop, played perfectly by Bill Murray
The quiet troublemakers
Suzy and the world through her window
Sam and Suzy make a plan
Sam flys the coop
The dysfunctional yet extremely forgivable adult band of misfits
Suzy's magic power
Edward Norton as the lovable Scout Master Ward
We've lost them again
The narrator, the storm is impending