“I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”—Orion on Moonrise Kingdom
A funny story: having completely neglected the preview section on this very blog, I was looking up random movie times for the local movie theater when I saw this interesting title. I subsequently headed over to Rotten Tomatoes, which has it sitting at 94 percent AND has it ranked the best movie of the summer. After watching the film, I casted around in my head to see what other movies I could compare it to, and landed upon Fantastic Mr. Fox—curiously enough, the films share a director. Just goes to show that 1) I need to pay more attention to everything and 2) I still have a keen sense of directorial style.
This film provides a lush, rich landscape for its story, ranging from beaches to forests to cool lighthouse-like houses. Set on a quiet and quaint island off the coast of New England, the film captures the intimate yet isolated feel of life there. Aesthetically speaking, Moonrise Kingdom is gorgeous—that alone would warrant a viewing.
But Anderson and the cast go even further. The story, involving two lovers eloping, is as classic as Romeo and Juliet. Like the two star-crossed lovers, these two main characters are very young—12 years old, in fact. Sam and Susie meet during the cacophony of a local play and immediately connect, deciding to run away together after a long correspondence. But I won’t reveal any more: much of the joy in this film lies in watching the story unfold like a pale, fragile flower. Enchanting, ephemeral, and yes, genuine, this love is powerful in its honest awkwardness. Ah the charms (and horrors) of that first love, just as hormones begin flooding the system—how many of us have blotted those experiences from memory? Anderson shies away from none of it.
For even though these two characters are fundamentally different, in the way all people are different, they indulge in that naïve but wonderful belief that they can find a new life together in the wilderness. Their conversation is pitch-perfect, revealing the deep textures of language that we forget 12-year-olds have the capacity to use. Dreams, desires—why do we rob children of the experiences of life?
Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bill Murray—these are big names, but they take on supporting roles, and do it well. Bruce Willis plays against the grain of his usual hard-nosed action hero. Here we see an aging, backwater cop, who can’t seem to get anything right. Anderson does this with all of his older characters—contrary to other films, in which it is the children without agency, in this film the adults must achieve agency in a long and torturous process, while children are able to seize their futures with their own hands.
That sense of agency is central. As I approach real adulthood I can see the ways in which my life is being planned out by my 12-year-old self. The future is locking itself around me: I am not afraid (I trust my 12-year-old self) but I can see how this is a frightening process. How much more so it must be for the 50-year-olds living out their lives because of the decisions they made when they were 20—the adults in the film quietly and inevitably suffer. So do the children—but their suffering can be alleviated by their own bold decisions to wander into a new life, to follow love into a new kingdom.