Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
“A tormenting and surprising story of children and adults during the stormy days of the summer of 1965.”
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray
Synopsis: A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.
It’s fair to say that Wes Anderson is something of a Marmite moviemaker — you either love his movies or you hate them. While I can appreciate his technical qualities as a filmmaker and admire his adherence to an artistic vision through a body of work dating back nearly 20 years, I’ve got to say I fall firmly into the second category. Anderson’s whimsical style fills me with an indefinable frustration that is almost overwhelming at times, and which literally makes it physically impossible to sit through a movie like Moonrise Kingdom.
The story takes place on New Penzance Island in the mid-1960s. New Penzance is almost like the mythical kingdoms in the books read by young Suzy (Kara Hayward), a troubled pre-teen who lives in the island’s lighthouse with her lawyer parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and three brothers. Although it resembles our own reality, it is also completely detached from the real world — both physically and figuratively. Suzy has been exchanging letters with scout trooper Sam (Jared Gilman), an equally troubled orphan. As the film begins, we learn that Sam has absconded from his scout camp with a canoe and supplies, and arranged a rendezvous with Suzy.
Together, this odd couple embark on an exploration of both the island and the tumultuous emotions that herald the onset of impending adolescence, which is mirrored by an approaching storm in whose path the island lies.
You get the impression that the kids are intensely aware of not only the changes they are undergoing as people, but of the emotional bleakness the future as adults holds for them. The adults in the movie are all leading fairly sad existences. There is no warmth in the relationship between Suzy’s parents. They occupy separate rooms, with her mother communicating with her father by megaphone. They address one another as counsellor. The mother is engaged in an affair with Sharp (Bruce Willis), the island’s police captain. He’s an equally lost soul: lonely, middle-aged and slowly going to seed. The scout troop is led by Randy Ward (Edward Norton), whose life is so empty that he devotes all his energy towards making his troop as good as it can be. No wonder the kids seek a refuge from this world in the ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, a bay in which they spend one idyllic night.
Moonrise Kingdom isn’t going to win Anderson any new converts, but it won’t disappoint his fans either. The fact that he has such a devoted fan base means that he has undoubtedly developed a style with which a sizeable proportion of the movie-watching public can identify and enjoy. His visual style is as impeccable as it is quirky, even though for this film he chooses to tone down the colours to create a sometimes murky palette out of the island’s landscape. The precise positioning of his characters, the length of some shots, the coldly rigid lines of the buildings and their exteriors, all have an emotionally distancing effect which makes it difficult for viewers like me to connect with the characters — a problem which is compounded by their deadpan delivery and the ambiguity of the message — if, in fact, there is one — that Anderson is trying to deliver.