To understand Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, the opening sequence tells us almost everything we need to know. A record player is turned on, and a narrator to ‘A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’ says:
In order to show you how a big symphony orchestra is put together, Benjamin Britten has written a big piece of music, which is made up of smaller pieces that show you all the separate parts of the orchestra. These smaller pieces are called variations, which means different ways of playing the same tune. First of all he lets us hear the tune, or theme, which is a beautiful melody by the much older British composer, Henry Purcell. Here is Purcell’s theme played by the whole orchestra together. …
Moonrise Kingdom is a top tier orchestra, all playing the same tunes on very unique instruments. When all is said and done, Anderson walks away the master director. The finished product is one of the most beautiful, pitch-perfect pieces of film making I’ve seen in a long time.
The story revolves around two young adults, “Khaki Scout” Sam (Jared Gilman) and “troubled child” Suzy (Kara Hayward), who run away together, and the mad scramble to find them by the town’s authority figures. The time is 1965, and the location is a rugged little island. A storm is approaching, which adds to the urgency.
The adults in Moonrise Kingdom may be looking for the children, but it soon becomes apparent that — like Sam and Suzy — they too are runaways. They too are searching for love and forgiveness and redemption. And it’s the subtle way that Anderson slides all the layers together that makes Moonrise Kingdom so special. He even goes so far as to leave the most poignant part of the film for its final moments, a note that will leave many with tears (of happiness) in their eyes.
Frances McDormand and Bill Murray play Laura and Walt Bishop, respectively. They are parents of a family in tatters, for personal and professional reasons. Bruce Willis plays the town’s “sad” sheriff. Edward Norton plays Scout Master Ward. All of them have tales of loss and longing, law and order … and family. Along the way they will confront issues related to sex and violence, betrayal and forgiveness. It sounds graphic, but with Wes Anderson it isn’t. All of it is just beneath the surface of an orderly, almost picture-perfect world of literature, classical music and decorum.
Where Anderson truly shines is the way in which he captures that transition between youthful innocence and adulthood. Before 24 hour cable news, cell phones, and the internet fused with a debased culture in ways that now rob children of innocence well before their teenage years, the kind of communities Anderson dreams up, on many levels, existed.
Moonrise Kingdom doesn’t try to deny the worst parts of human nature — it is all most certainly there — but it captures a yearning for a time where mechanisms were in place to try harness those faults, so that our better parts could be trained and cultivated into something productive and beautiful.
Finally, Moonrise Kingdom is about unconditional love. At one time or another, we’ve all felt unwanted or unworthy. We’ve all lashed out or acted in ways that were beneath us, perhaps so much so that we were scared to admit it to those we care about most. Whether it’s with our sons and daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives — or even surrogate families — everyone wants to be accepted and loved. What Anderson points out is that it doesn’t matter what age we are, there are universal things we’re all looking for. The ways in which we search may change from childhood to adulthood, but the destination is always the same.
If you have a chance to see Moonrise Kingdom in the theaters, it’s a trip well worth taking.