Moonrise Kingdom

MOONRISE KINGDOM. Starring: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jared Gilman, and Kara Hayward. Directed by Wes Anderson. Rated PG (Mild violence, sexual references and coarse language). 94 min.

This is a comedy-drama that takes place on a fictional New England Island (called “New Penzance”) about a relationship between two young children, Sam Shakusy (Jared Gilman), and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). They meet at a church musical performance, and make a pact to come together again the following summer at a Scout camp, and they determine to run away together.

Typical of approaching adolescence, we know more about what the children are running away from, than about what they are running to. For the break-away, Sam brings his camping equipment, and Suzy brings her cat, six stolen books, and her brother’s record player. Both the children are labelled “problem children” by the adults who are supposed to look after them. They are lonely for different reasons, and both yearn to be free. They decide to walk to a secluded cove on the Island, called “Moonrise Kingdom”. Feelings deepen between the two, and the Police Chief (Bruce Willis), the Scout Master (Edward Norton), and Suzy’s unhappily married, lawyer parents (Bill Murray, and Francis McDormand) go looking for them.

After being found at the cove, Sam is seen by a Social Services Officer (Tilda Swinton), who flies in from the mainland when things go wrong. Known simply as “Social Services”, she wants to put Sam into a juvenile refuge centre. Attracted by Sam’s and Suzie’s sense of adventure and the fact that Sam is an orphan, the scout troupe decides to help the two of them escape. They are eventually apprehended on a Church steeple in the middle of a hurricane and flash flood. The steeple is destroyed by lightning, but they survive, and the film ends with Sam being adopted by the town’s Police Chief.

This is a totally engaging movie about human relationships, involving children who feel intensely about their attraction to each other, and adults who have difficulty understanding themselves and the children in their charge. Suzy and Sam create a world for themselves that is half-fantasy, and half-real. They establish themselves in “Moonrise Kingdom”, because it represents to them the opposite of the harshness that their adult world delivers. The movie captures delightfully the twilight zone between youth and adolescence. The adults in the movie are foolish and unthinking, while Suzy and Sam rule a world that is based on friendship, affection, and understanding.

Wes Anderson is a terrific director, and very different from most. The opening credits has the entire Bishop family (adults, children, and pets) living in what seems to be a doll’s house. Anderson begins the movie by creating the impression that we, the viewers, are observing life inside a boxed house that he has constructed. It was Anderson, who was responsible for the magnificently quirky, “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001). His movies typically look as if he arranges his characters in a patterned way, and he plays out their oddities in an environment that he specifically creates for them. His eccentric style of direction permeates this entire movie.

The movie is crafted to combine sadness, joy and humour very well. Like “The Royal Tenenbaums” there is oddness everywhere. Suzie’s mother, for example, orders her family around in her house with a megaphone, but nothing distracts from the attention given to detail, showing how people feel toward each other.

The movie as a whole is not believable, but it is one of those films that give the viewer a lot to believe in. After seeing it, one has no doubt what it is that makes a family really matter. In describing their children, Suzy’s parents realize what is happening around them, when they say: “We’re all they have … and it’s not enough”.

This is a whimsical film that is wonderfully photographed, scripted and directed, and creatively constructed. The movie has the look of a vividly coloured adventure-book, that is unfolding before your eyes, page (frame) by page (frame). Its quirkiness reinforces that look, but it has much to say that is morally sound and very worthwhile.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

Universal Pictures.

Out August 23rd 2012.


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