In all poetry, one phrase runs through my mind most frequently: desire is full of endless distance. Okay, number one is probably the falcon cannot hear the falconer but, for the purposes of this post about Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, let's focus on how desire is full of endless distance (The Royal Tenenbaums is the one with the falcon).
The season of the film, late summer 1965, is distant from us. And its protagonists, Sam (Jared Gilman, with eyes often split by black glasses forever slipping down his nose) and Suzy (Kara Heyward, her eyelids drooping under the blue weight of her mascara) start the film impossibly far apart, on opposite ends of New Penzance Island. Impossibly far if they were 12-year-olds the way that the author of WTT was a 12-year-old. But with brief missives in crayon and marker (not to mention original watercolors of telephone poles) Sam and Suzy are drawn together within an aching inevitability. In shot after shot they are on opposite sides of the Andersonian proscenium. Until they aren't.
As always, I exclaimed over the objects in the film--love
him or hate him, Anderson is the ultimate director of detail. I loved
the Khaki Scoutmaster Swiss Army knife that rhymed with Dirk's gift to Max in Rushmore.
I loved the lefty scissors Suzy wields at her attackers--I had that
exact pair. I loved the cat in the wicker basket on the beach, the same
year Belmondo and Karina were on the run in Pierrot le fou. And so, like The Dark Knight Rises fanboys, my hackles went up over Kartina Richardson's odd MK put down. Which led to a backlash to the backlash that included just a few little harsh words. Richardson, who was so helpful on a film like Certified Copy, complains of Anderson's smallness of scope. I find it small the way Romeo and Juliet is a small, fairly unbelievable tale. As someone else said, the lack of minority presence is like complaining about the dearth of coal miners in Proust. I'd take to Twitter to point out that at least he dedicates the film to a minority but I don't want to invite too much abuse.
While many reviews have struggled to find new ways to say Anderson's up to his old tricks again, I found his departure to 16mm filmstock significant. The extended couple on the run segment had a nostalgic, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom wobble. The long vistas along the Chickchaw trail were not as crystalline as the cemetery views in Rushmore, for instance.
The ensemble cast is a more familiar pleasure. Bruce Willis in an unexpected Hank Williams phase, Bill Murray raging in madras, Frances McDormand washing first her hair then her daughter's, Ed Norton overwhelmed and speechless in his scoutmaster's log, Tilda Swinton's Social Services another piece of swooping androgyny, Jason Schwartzman's impeccably officious Falcon Scout Legionnaire (as fabulous as Bob Balaban's Prarie Home Companion-esque narration was, the only thing I really missed was Owen Wilson's voice).
Moonrise Kingdom has all the giggles you'd expect with unexpected reserves of pain, as in this exchange between co-counselors McDormand and Murray:
"Stop feeling sorry for yourself."
"We're all they've got Walt."
"That's not enough."
Perhaps you can't get past the visuals: swirls of heirloom quilt and perfectly complementary flannel pajamas in separate twin beds. Or you can say that it's a remarkably forthright scene, struck through with truth, beyond aesthetics.
Sam and Suzy are at their most indelible at a place with the least romantic name, Mile 2.3 Tidal Inlet, coming together from opposite rocky outcrops on the beach of their found kingdom. There's Sam's gentle rejoinder to Suzy, "I love you but you don't know what you're talking about," and that fabulous streak of blood from the beetle back earrings, exotic as peacock feathers, that he fishhooks into her pale ears.
The yellows, browns and greens that dominate the film fall away at the climax, as Sam and Suzy flee to the roof in rain-blue night streaked with white lightning. This is the realization of Benjamin Britten's Noye's Fludde and the payoff for the flashing "Moonrise Kingdom" title card at the end of the opening credits. On the rooftop they drop their failed disguises, two tiger masks fluttering to the ground on opposite sides of the sign to St. Jack's Church. Hanging off the side of the steeple they become themselves again.