My first exposure to Wes Anderson as a director came from his adaption of Roald Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Stop-motion animation had always interested me from a technical side of film production. The amount of time it takes to painstakingly complete one scene is something I cannot possibly comprehend, and that’s part of the reason that film won me over. Additionally, I enjoyed the charming narrative that Anderson was able to draw out of the source material. Needless to say, Anderson quickly became another director to keep on my radar.
When I first heard about and saw the trailer for his latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, like many other Anderson followers (I can assume), I was having trouble containing my own excitement. There were opportunities for me to see the film long before now, but I could never attend, so for the longest time I was left chomping at the bit for more of Anderson’s brilliance. Now that I have finally viewed the film (twice), I can safely say that Moonrise Kingdom was well worth the wait and, had I seen it last year, I would have called it one of the best films I had seen that year.
To start, I would like to make an apology to Mr. Anderson and his production team for Moonrise Kingdom. Before going into this film, I was expecting, and kind of hoping for, a film with a feel to it that seemed identical to Fantastic Mr. Fox. It was not fair of me, as a viewer, to expect a completely similar product from Anderson, despite his pedigree as a director, so for that I apologize. During my first viewing of Moonrise, I was spending too much time actively searching for moments of quirky comic gold in the writing. Don’t get me wrong, Moonrise has plenty of those moments, but unfortunately, it took me until the film’s end to realize that comedy was not meant to be at the forefront of the film’s entertainment. That title belongs to the film’s enthralling story, which I was able to enjoy more thoroughly my second time around.
Just like the stop-motion animation in Fantastic Mr. Fox, it became clear that co-writers Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (who also co-wrote Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited) took their time to carefully construct the script for Moonrise Kingdom. In the story, we encounter two adolescents, Sam and Suzy, who have run away together from lives where they do not feel understood by their peers or the adults in their lives. With their pact comes a romantic bond that, in reality, could never be expected of children their age. This is the sort of story that kids create as a fantasy they wish they could escape to, and Coppola and Anderson do a wonderful job of expressing that fantastical element while still keeping things grounded in reality. Is it truly possible for two adolescents to feel love and understand the concept of it? Who’s to say?
Regardless, Anderson and Coppola delve into this theme of young love with a remarkable amount of depth, heart, and sincerity. Fortunately, one other facet of the narrative I was able to experience during my first viewing was how well Anderson and Coppola build up the story leading up to its conclusion. Every single bit of drama in the film’s final half was captivating as we witnessed some of an adult world come to their senses with regards to the two kids, who are far more wise than most would expect them to be. All of these compliments toward the script and the writers who brought it into the world, however, would be meaningless if it weren’t for the outstanding performances all around from the film’s cast.
Considering Moonrise Kingdom was their screen debut, actors Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward turn in wonderful performances as Sam and Suzy, especially when you also consider the fact that their adoration for each other is what carries the film’s progression. They both portray characters that feel misunderstood and know that only they can understand each other’s troubles, but never once do they ask for the sympathy of the audience. Instead, they take the material and give each character a reason to look for something better, something beyond the bitter confines of home life (or lack thereof). In the film, they are the authorities of their lives and live in a way most would find enviable.
As I mentioned previously, no one knows if a young adolescent can understand how love works and what it really means, but that does not matter as Hayward and Gilman both make an idea thought to be questionable believable. The performances are well complimented by those of Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, and Frances McDormand, the adult occupiers of this fantastical world. As the film progresses, the emotional disconnect between adult and child both grows and wanes, and the actors do an excellent job of expressing that dichotomy. Even when they believe that they still have control after Sam and Suzy are found after their first runaway, they soon realize how little effect they have in the nurturing of these two children.
Finally, one of the film’s technical facets that I could not help but notice was the cinematography. First of all, the setting is ideal in expressing a child’s fantasy of independence. The small fictional island they inhabit is full of beautiful landscapes, forests, and coastlines and imagining that they have this world for themselves is part of the film’s appeal. Each shot within an open field or a dense forest is breathtaking as the characters move about the set. It also helps that the film’s color palette makes many set pieces pop with eye-catching vibrance.
Additionally, it helps that the camera is highly kinetic, making use of numerous tracking and following shots to control what the viewer does and does not see as a part of the mise-en-scene. Just like Sam and Suzy, the cinematography is equally authoritative in creating this mythical playground of romantic exploration and independence from society. In fact, the camera’s movement commands far more authority than any adult character in the film, emphasizing the power Sam and Suzy have over their own destiny, which they acknowledge is not easily predictable.
I can guarantee that I will be visiting the world of Moonrise Kingdom many more times, as it is a charming, enthralling, and gleefully quirky film that is destined to age well. Perhaps I envy what Sam and Suzy are able to create for themselves and I do not think I speak alone when sharing that sentiment. Scratch that, because I know I do. As I learned after watching Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson is one of the few directors in Hollywood who consistently puts out critically acclaimed films. Give me time to watch more of his films (Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom are the only two by him that I have seen so far), and I can also guarantee that he will easily become one of my more favorite directors. In the case of Moonrise Kingdom, I give it a score of 4 out of 4. I tip my hat to you, Mr. Anderson. I can assure you that the next time I see one of your films, I will venture into it with more appropriate intentions.