Melted sunshine on film
by Stephanie Douglass
In Moonrise Kingdom, the 2012 film by Wes Anderson, two wayward and love-struck twelve-year-olds run away together to the wilderness. Suzy (Kara Hayward) is the oldest child of two lawyers; Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan attending Khaki Scout summer camp on the densely forested New England island where Suzy and her family live. Both eagerly leave behind the civilized world that has neglected their inner development and ostracized them with unofficial diagnoses of "very troubled" and "emotionally disturbed."
Camping on their own, they are revealed to be bright, considerate, and optimistic: they navigate the forest, paint and read and dance, and share their rough pasts and hoped-for futures. In one of the movie's most honest and intimate scenes, as they talk about their families, Suzy says: "I always wished I was an orphan. Most of my favorite characters are. I think your lives are more special." Sam looks her in the eye and calmly says, "I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about."
Meanwhile, their parents and guardians, in the process of searching for Sam and Suzy, degenerate into shouting, finger-pointing, shoe-throwing fits. It's a wry portrayal of adults who claim more authority and respect than they deserve; beyond being funny to watch, such bad behavior offers a subtle explanation for why kids like Suzy and Sam, when helpless and threatened, respond to others with violence. The inverse relationship between age and maturity--that is, the older a character is, the more childish he or she is likely to be--is thematically repeated throughout the film. Take, for example, Sam's troop leader, scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton), a critical yet ineffectual man who strolls through his camp of self-sufficient boys. He's adept at giving orders and issuing citations for uniform violations; when confronted with Sam's disappearance, he charges his troop with the search. When he wakes one morning to find his whole troop has vanished, however, he sits alone, mute, at a loss as to how to
Moonrise Kingdom glows with Anderson's signature style. Scenes filled with generic, everyday objects take on the colorful charm of a neatly ordered curio cabinet. The camera pans in straight lines: up, down, right, left. And, complementing the story's idyllic setting in 1965, the whole film has an aged yellow tint like melted sunshine. For those of you who happened to miss seeing Moonrise Kingdom on a big screen during its initial release last summer, and for those of you who did watch it and crave another viewing, it will be shown at Top of the Park on June 26. Outdoors on a big screen in the summer should be the perfect way to experience fully a few extraordinary feats of character, as well as to soak up its subtlety and warmth of spirit.
[Originally published in June, 2013.]