Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Remember When We Had Them All On The Run?

Moonrise Kingdom (Anderson, 2012)

I never went to summer camp. I don't know if that makes me an outlier to the quintessential American experience, but growing up I never spent a day of summer at a day camp. Looking back I'm not entirely sure what I missed, but the romantic notions that I have associated with what occurs at camp (thanks in no small part to Salute Your Shorts) have always left me wondering what would have changed if some of my summers were spent in this idealized wonderland of quasi-freedom. Now of course I'm sure no camp is anywhere close to how I imagine, but I think what draws me to it is the fictionalized allure of sorting out all the strange feelings of approaching maturity with boys and girls who were all on the precipice of adolescence. And it's this feeling, one that permeates throughout the whole of Wes Anderson's latest film Moonrise Kingdom, that makes my imaginary sanctuary a semi-tangible reality. This almost fairy tale that is underscored by so much painful reality, an escape that forces confrontation of truth.

Barely three years removed from his last (and arguably his greatest) feature film, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson has seemingly taken all the freedoms and meticulous control that the medium of animation allowed and found a way to translate them almost directly to live action filmmaking. Every frame feels so carefully constructed, whether it be the moments in the wilderness where youths Sam and Suzy, expertly portrayed by newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward respectively, work through their youthful romance or anywhere in the surrounding island where all the adults frantically search for these runaways. Not a moment in the film where Anderson's use of symmetry falls out of line, where a character or even a background object feels out of place. There's a feeling that everything is artificial, but the emotions at the center of the movie are undeniably realistic. This beautiful tension has been present in many of Anderson's previous works, but it's perhaps at its most fully realized here.

Once a friend recommended that I watch The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou because I was looking for films that conveyed a sense of depression. I came away from that film not quite understanding why he recommended it, since for the most part I found the film to be more uplifting than depressing, but after watching Moonrise Kingdom I started to see why he suggested that movie. It's easy to be caught up in the whimsical beauty of Anderson's latest, especially when Sam and Suzy take such forceful control of this budding romance that extensively developed in lengthy exchanges of letters between the two while Sam was spending summer at the Khaki Scouts camp and Suzy was across the island at her home. 

But behind all the gorgeous scenes of them dancing on the beach or the quiet meals in the woods there's constant reminders of a bleak reality. The film never directly confronts Sam's emotional instability, nor does it explore Suzy's isolation and anger fully, but in each conversation the two have a sense of dread seems to always lurk in the background. And when it makes itself present, whether it be through physical violence or arguments the character have, the film fins some of its most compelling and devastating scenes. The dream, the ideal, is always at risk for reality, there's always this sense of outside forces (both literal in the form of the adults attempting to reclaim them or intangible time that takes it toll on youth) threaten this idyllic romance.

Actually, as the movie continued I was reminded of the opening scene which talking about variations on a theme in music. I can't really speak with authority on how music works, but lately I've been reading some Shakespeare and it was not hard to find, to an extent, a variation on the Romeo and Juliet story that threads through narrative tradition. Sam and Suzy exist as star-crossed lovers, but since the film is directly a variation on the theme of reckless youthful romance it avoids simply being a retelling of a familiar tale. This gives the film a magical, almost ethereal quality that is furthered by the soundtrack.

On a technical level Wes Anderson's latest is truly a marvel, but watching Anderson take all that he seemingly learned while creating The Fantastic Mr. Fox and transferring it to live-action is perhaps the more stunning development. I personally have been hit or miss on his films so far, liking about half and actively disliking the rest, but if Moonrise Kingdom is any indication he may have finally refined his cinematic language to the most accessible, yet increasingly complex, level of his career. And maybe I did miss out on some magical experiences at camp, but after spending about an hour and a half with Moonrise Kingdom, it's clear that I didn't need it to be able to recognize beauty.

Rating: *****/*****


Notes of Interest:

I didn't mention the loaded ensemble that features Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and Frances McDormand in fairly sizeable roles. Just in case that wasn't enough, Jason Schwartzman and Tilda Swinton also make appearances, though I would have liked to see both have a little more to do.

A lot of movies, and the world at large, tend to try and pretend that sexuality doesn't cross an individual's mind until they turn 18, but having Anderson directly tackle two (approximately) 12 year old children learning and experimenting with their budding sexuality should be commended. The film does not directly shy away from any sort of potentially taboo subjects, including the two big ones: children's capacity for both sexuality and violence.

There's an interesting typical inversion of children being smarter than adults and adults being more childish than children, which one would assume is a tired trope with the growth of 'indie' cinema, but Anderson makes it feel fresh.

Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

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© 2012 Richard James Thorne

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