Moonrise Kingdom

29 May

Over the sixteen years since his debut feature Bottle Rocket, indie-posterboy Wes Anderson has honed and perfected his trademark idiosyncratic, arch style. If directors were associated with food products, Anderson would almost certainly be the love-it-or-hate-it Marmite – those who love his style really love his style and those who don’t find each and every film he makes irritating and insufferable. I, for one, fall firmly into the former category, having never seen an Anderson film I’ve disliked – including his latest, the 60s-set Moonrise Kingdom which is Anderson’s feature-length entry into the love-on-the-run genre that he previously touched upon in The Royal Tenenbaums when Richie and his adopted-sister Margot run away to the Natural History Museum.

This time there are no museums and no awkward family ties to put a downer on things. Moonrise Kingdom follows Sam (Jared Gilman), an orphaned boy-scout and Suzy (Kara Hayward), who feels unloved by her two lawyer parents (played by two Anderson staples – Bill Murray and Francis McDormand) as they run away together on their island-home of New Penzance, sparking a crisis in the community. Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), along with Sam’s former scout-comrades, are charged with tracking them down and, in typical Anderson fashion, all involved experience some-sort of self-discovery.

Sam is a character in the mould of previous Anderson protagonists – bespectacled, spunky, full of wit and charm. Suzy on the other hand, is more reserved – a bookworm who uses binoculars to observe people from a distance. They both desire the love that they’re not being given – Sam, due to the fact he’s and orphan; Suzy, due to the fact her parents have forgotten how to love each other as well as their rebellious daughter – and they find it in each other.

Gilman and Hayward, who both make their debut in the film, give strong performances and translate the honesty and sincerity of the script to something believable and utterly captivating on screen – even if they don’t always appear comfortable delivering the lines they’ve been given. The only other actors that I’ve seen do such a commendable job in conveying young love are Ann-Sofie Kylin and Rolf Sohlman in Roy Andersson’s sadly underseen masterpiece, A Swedish Love Story. 

Whether or not Wes Anderson has seen that film, I can’t say but his films always wear their inspirations on the sleeve and Moonrise Kingdom is no different. By far the most prominent of these is Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou – the nouvelle vague’s take on the love-and-the-run genre. In both films, the couples set up camp on a beach, however, Pierrot le fou was much less romantic than Moonrise Kingdom where the beach is the setting for the film’s most amorous scenes.

More subtlety, the film evokes Terrence Malick’s debut film Badlands – another decidedly unromantic love-on-the-run. Ironically, while Sam and Suzy are much younger than their counterparts in either film, their romantic tryst is much more mature. In Badlands, the use of Carl Orff’s Gassenhauer as the main musical theme lends a sense of juvenility to the featured romance but in Moonrise Kingdom, the soundtrack is used for entirely different ends.

Anderson always carefully crafts the soundtracks for his films and in Moonrise Kingdom it seems especially emblematic to the action and themes of the film itself. In the beginning of the film, we see Suzy’s three brothers avidly listening to a record of English composer Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra which showcases the capacities of each section of the orchestra – the original theme is deconstructed then reconstructed into a fugue which could represent the structure of the film itself – the ordered community dissolves into chaos which thankfully manages to reconstruct itself.

Another Britten piece with a presence in the film is Noye’s Fludde, an opera adaptation of one of the Chester mystery plays which Britten stipulated be performed by amateur children in a non-theatrical setting, preferably a church – this time the Church of St. Jack on New Penzance. During the production, Sam and Suzy first meet and Anderson, who films it beautifully with candle-light, could not not have picked a better opera to stage. A riff on the Biblical tale of Noah’s Ark, it emphasises cooperation, togetherness and love – perhaps the main themes of the entire film.

Another notable musical selection is that of Françoise Hardy’s Le temps de l’amour to accompany Sam and Suzy’s mating dance on the beach – one of the most romantic scenes I can remember from recent years. The song states (in French) that, although love lasts forever, it is still too short – it is no wonder that the young couple are desperate to be together, rather than apart.

Perhaps even more important than the sounds are the visuals and for his latest production Anderson has decided to shoot with 16mm (aka Super 16). Anderson has always had a rather Tolkien-esque attention to detail and Moonrise Kingdom allows him to extend this to the outdoors much more than he has before. The visible grain gives the image depth and a vérité feel that contrasts with Anderson’s dollhouse-like composition but, I’m pleased to say, everything works perfectly, meshing together into a delightful synthesis of picturesque beauty.

Anderson is perhaps the modern master of what Michael Powell termed “the composed film” where each element is given careful consideration and, whether complimenting or contrasting, come together into a harmonious whole. Moonrise Kingdom is certainly Anderson’s most technically accomplished film and may even be his best. At a paltry 93 minutes, I was left wanting more – not because there was anything missing but because I was enjoying the world on screen to such a degree that I didn’t want to leave and perhaps that, more than anything else, is the highest praise I can bestow on a film.


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