Review of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom

When it comes to director allegiances, most artists I know will put Wes Anderson on their lists — he’s certainly on ours! Jeremy and I were eager to see his latest, “Moonrise Kingdom,” and we were even willing to shell out $20 to see it in the theater — with popcorn in our laps! (We typically wait to see movies until they come to the library, Redbox, Netflix, or our local cheap-o dollar theater.)

You probably already know the story: 12-year-old orphan Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), reared in the foster care system, falls in first love with 12-year-old Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) on an island off the coast of New England in 1964 during a “Khaki scout” camp. They write letters to each other all year and plan to run away together the next summer when Sam’s back at camp — which is where the film picks up. The rest of the movie involves the couple running away, exploring first love, and being chased by a crew of khaki scouts, the girl’s parents, local police, and social services, with a climax on the top of the spire of a church during a hurricane (a bit of drama for your buck).

As in all Anderson’s films, the cinematography is gorgeous (interesting lens filters and colors, angles, and settings). His characters are dynamic — in every scene, ALL of Anderson’s characters have motivations, desires, and obvious back stories. His writing shows without telling, and the dialogue says nothing more and nothing less than is needed.

Oh yes, and just like every single story he has every made, “Moonrise Kingdom” includes eccentric, dysfunctional family relationships. His characters are true misfits, sometimes painfully so. (Sam is called “emotionally troubled” and has bounced around from foster family to foster family because of his antics, while we see Suzy shoot one of the khaki scouts with a bow and arrow and, in an earlier scene, fight a classmate in the middle of a lecture.)

Sam and Suzy display more self-knowledge than any of the adult characters, however — they are the grown-ups and the grown-ups are the children. They pursue love in spite of family opposition while Suzy’s parents struggle in a marriage without love (it might not help that Suzy’s mother is having an affair with the local police officer).

Yet one of the charming features of this film is watching Sam and Suzy’s puppy love unfold. Even Jeremy found his heart warmed by the loyalty Sam and Suzy display toward each other throughout the drama of their running away (ending with their spur-of-the-moment wedding in a khaki scout chapel by a rogue khaki scout leader played by Jason Schwartzman).

[THIS NEXT PART IS A BIT OF A SPOILER]
And while all these things make the film enjoyable, we did find one element, as believers, that troubled us. Watching two young lovers read library books together at a camp fire and hike across an island as they are being chased by khaki scouts and parents at every turn is truly endearing.

However, there are a few highly suggestive scenes during the time when Sam and Suzy camp together that made us uncomfortable. You saw part of this scene in the previews — Sam and Suzy strip down to their underwear to swim in the ocean. After that, they dance on the beach (still in their underwear), and you cannot help but smile. Then they move closer and kiss, and Suzy notices Sam’s erection and mentions it, saying she doesn’t mind. Then, in the next scene, they are waking up inside their tent to a helicopter and angry mob of pursuers on the beach — and they are lying in the same sleeping bag together, still in their underwear.

Now, initially, Jeremy and I saw this part in different ways. I imagined that nothing happened — they simply slept close to each other in their underwear. It was a (mostly) innocent interpretation. Jeremy, though, assumed that they had sex.

“If the adults in Wes Anderson’s films are children and the children act as adults,” Jeremy said, “then I think it would be safe to assume that they DID have sex. If we saw two adults act out the same scene on the beach and then we saw them wake up together in the same tent, we would assume they had sex.” Point made.

Furthermore, we were concerned with the medium of film portraying this adolescent sexual exploration. Yes, every person goes through a sexual awakening around the age of twelve, and most adolescents explore. The scene is honest in that respect. But is film the best medium to show this? With child pornography as rampant (and as evil) as it is, and without being able to choose the viewers of this movie, are these scenes at all exploitative? We can assume that Anderson did not have this purpose in mind when shooting these scenes, however, we cannot assume that every watcher will view these scenes as innocently as we viewed them.

Our view is, why contribute to the problem in any way? Why even walk the line? There is no need to add anything else to the pornographic imagination. We would prefer if Anderson had either made it more vague or just stuck with the truer puppy love feeling we think he wanted to portray in this movie in the first place.

[SPOILER OVER]

All in all, we found the movie to be funny, engaging, and interesting. In all of his movies, Anderson seems to ask the most basic question: if all our relationships are dysfunctional, are relationships worth pursuing at all? Unlike a director like Woody Allen, who would say that because relationships do not work, we should chuck them and live alone, Anderson continues to say that we need each other. We need relationships, and we need them in spite of (and perhaps because of) how messed up we are. Obviously he has not given up hope that relationships are worth it, even if he cannot put his finger on exactly why.

We find this so redemptive! Personally, we would say it like this, Wes: we are sinners. We are all messed up, and so our relationships with each other are messed up. We cannot help but hurt each other. But Jesus came so that we could experience freedom and forgiveness from our sin, and so that we could live in redeemed relationship with each other (by the power of his Spirit — we’ll explain that more later, Wes). We think relationship is possible only through Jesus, and that’s the answer you’re looking for.

…We are praying Wes Anderson finds his answer soon! In the meantime, see “Moonrise Kingdom” and rejoice in the redemption that can be found in it.

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