Having watched no less than five thought-provoking and intense films this last week, there is no world I would turn to for detached but strikingly beautiful inspiration rather than a Wes Anderson classic. Moonrise Kingdom is Anderson’s last silver-screen painting before this year’s Grand Budapest Hotel which is already gathering up quite a significant amount of Oscar buzz. It tells the tale of a boy and a girl – an orphaned Khaki-scout and an anti-social girl who wishes she didn’t have parents – who explore the spaces of their young love and joined rebellion against the overbearing adulthood and maturity that are soon approaching them. It reminded me, as my eyes sighed a happy sound, of Toms who ran off with Beckys on the run from an Indian Joe, and tales of boys trapped on an island of the Lord of the Flies. Moonrise Kingdom is definitely reminiscent of old-school stories and tales that we relished in school, of fantastical lands where the magic lay in the adventures of children.
A distinctive trait of most of Anderson’s films is the usage of deeply chromatic palettes, with which each shot is a painting that tells a story. This visual theme is prevalent throughout this film where Wes dips his brush in the shades of a soft grass-green, autumnal, and the occasional well-placed red. The movie starts off with seeming exposition on the deconstruction of an opera which foreshadows the events that are about to unfold in this quaint summertime adventure. An insertion of the narrator Bob Balaban reciting his geographic account of the days might sound out-of-place, yet the frequent references to atmospheric events that mirror the characters’ emotions and struggles earn their reward once the storm strikes this mystical New-England town, set in the middle of somewhere. The film is best experienced as a children’s book, which is seamlessly threaded into the screenplay, dialogue and the characters themselves. With a duo of pre-adolescent children in the lead, this island where nobody but the characters resides resonates with a vibrant colour and quirky wonder. A striking element is the characterization of the adults in the film as magnified versions of childish souls stuck inside a tired body and peering out from behind weary eyes. Anderson uses a unique story telling technique that couples a drawling narration with a quirky rhythmic melody, setting up a stage where the character have arrived to present a play, probably based off a book. It is hard to imagine that there is no book somewhere out there, that this movie is adapted from. The use of weather and other background occurrences to picture the characters’ thoughts are used as if in a Sunday play, and don’t seem overused at all, like it usually is in cinema.
Objects are as much an integral part of the story as the characters, and this has been previously seen in Darjeeling Limited and more recently, Grand Budapest Hotel. The use of objects to further the tale is seen invariably in those takeaway shots which cut to certain objects, usually as the narrator recites what they are and why they are special, usually a subconscious instigation to draw your eyes toward the same objects later on, when they appear in the movie. These shots of various objects, such as letters, Suzy’s binoculars, her books, Sam’s scouting gear, records and such, tell a story all by themselves, rounding out the characters, and giving them many more layers, so as to let us see them through their possessions. I personally love these single shots, which I believe are strict Anderson-forte, and strikingly beautiful pictures. The letters especially, when displayed as the character reads them, accompanied by a soft scratching of pen on paper, add, I think, certain quirkiness to the drama.
Coming to the characters and the acting talent that is poured into this tale, it is quite an impressive bunch. Edward Norton plays the squeaky true-to-the-letter Scout Master Ward, who plays, what I believe is the most unlikely role he has ever taken on. Coming from years of playing hardened, bordering on psychopathic enigmas in Fight Club and American History X, he is seen here playing a stringy boy-scout (in all senses of the word, both literally and figuratively) who speaks in a disciplined yet quirky voice and a mouse-like demeanour all around him. “Jiminy cricket, he’s flown the coop!” is probably the best line I’ve ever heard him utter, and that was the first in a long line of laughs. Bruce Willis too plays someone who seems to be the antithesis of his usual action hero stereotype, and who, although a police officer, seems emotionally broken inside and learns to be inspired and touched by a small boy and his escapade of life. Bill Murray, the Stan Lee of Anderson movies, is here doing what he does best, gracing every room, field or boat he is in, with his inimitably weary-eyed but humorous short lines and looks. The kids, Sam and Suzy, played by Jared Gillman and Kara Hayward also executed their parts with effortful brilliance, especially in that questionable scene in Moonrise Kingdom, the shore-line paradise the two built for themselves, having escaped the wrath of Sam’s co-scouts. This is a huge relief, seeing how most of the emotional gravity of the movie centred on the duo, and their feelings toward each other. Speaking of the scenes at the shore, which was something I was shocked to see, but delighted at the fact that it was included, being such a crucial part of the film, without which it would have been lacking in something. It was exactly those moments of the movie, where the kids spent their time on Moonrise Kingdom, wiling away their time as truly as they would, left without parental supervision. Every scene is so very picturesque, and it is here that it is made for us to understand that Sam and Suzy are living the last days of their mischievous childhood, transitioning daily to the maturity and weariness seen in the eyes of every adult in the film. Sam’s naughty and curious voice, coupled with Suzy stares and superficially monotonous voice makes for some amazing conversation. These are the scenes that remind me very much of Tom’s and Becky’s time in the cave, where very similar emotions surface, and maturity is seen looming over the horizon of the two kids holding onto their last days of adventure and recklessness.
I admit, there was a point in this film where the direction the film was taking seemed a bit underwhelming, but then the clever use of the storm towards the end, and the escapade of Sam and Suzy portrayed through orchestral sounds and light and darkness elevated the film to a masterful level. There was never a moment where the scenes seemed like repetition, as it was able to weave together the events with a certain nuance to them that I can’t get my head around, nor can turn my eyes away from. The scenes of the telephone conversations caught my eye as very stark and delightful depictions of an era that seems to exist in the beautiful worlds of Blyton, Wodehouse and Twain. The movie is more so a tale seen from a child’s heart, as is evident from the minute nuances of childishness in all characters, and the very reason why some characters are referred to as merely ‘Social Services’ and refuses to expand the characters of these, to be seen for the one-dimensional purposes they serve in the story. This one-dimensionality is not a negative, but serves the very purpose the story wants to serve, to showcase these characters for just what they are as seen through a child’s eye. Characters exist just for the momentary purpose they serve, and seem to have no other character to them than the Cartographer, and Jed who brings the mail. Attention is drawn to this fact, and this in itself adds a sort of humour that we see in how children often view and describe people as very one-dimensional and of singular purpose.
For the very reasons I have elaborated above, Moonrise Kingdom is an inspiring and warm movie, where every shot is a beautiful painting, and the quirky humour highlighting the romance of two innocent souls in a summertime adventure leaves the audience with a sense of fulfilment and light-heartedness, and a remembrance and nostalgia of more innocent times. Noticed carefully, the camera is seen to glide effortlessly from shot to shot, in many a place opting for a tracking shot to display various dramas ongoing between various characters. This too, adds to the sensation of turning the pages of a book and leaving each different happening on a different page, as we move on over to the next. This sort of style brings a sense of wholesomeness as every inch of the environment is shown in separate slices, coming together to form a most impressive package. Of course, it is the curious and magical story-telling of Wes Anderson that makes this movie a classic that reminds me of many a book I have read alongside a cup of hot chocolate and biscuits. The placement of emotionally powerful moments within a most neatly-wrapped bundle of humour makes this movie unforgettable.
P.S. It’s times like this when I wish Wes Anderson had directed the remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory instead of Tim Burton. Any work of Dahl seems perfect for this guy, although he mostly works with original screenplays.