Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Love: Moonrise Kingdom
Initially, I'd answered with a dumbed-down smart-ass's verbal calculation of differences, a total jumble of stylistic reasons: "um, well, the font has changed...there's less pop music...it's got an actual year its supposed to take place...the kids are a little more innocent...and, uhhhh, Bruce Willis." These tiny details are certainly factors, but they're also of no real consequence. They don't do much (if anything) to contribute to the relative 'greatness' or 'difference' of Moonrise Kingdom. Yet, while many of the actual reasons to love the film would read as applicable to most other Anderson storytimes, it does indeed feel a bit different, fairly new, and strangely refreshing.
I've heard it said that the best fairy stories rely on the presence of strong nouns; solid objects that become powerful totems in combination with other words, and I believe this may be true of all children's literature. The beloved books of our childhoods are in possession of a collection of meticulously placed things presented in a pleasing order: a comb, a brush, a bowl full of mush, princesses with flaxen hair, golden tickets wrapped in chocolate bars, foxes among the chickens, wishing coins in the medieval wing, tollbooths, broomsticks and common rooms and tapestries and pirate caves and walled gardens and daemons disguised as ermines or stoats.
As a director, Anderson has always seemed to hold the bittersweet simplicity of children's literature close as a source of inspiration, and it occurs to me now that he seems to be equally intimate in his understanding of their literary construction, of what it is that appeals to us as children and what brings us back to a world time and again. He knows how to position a camera, how to cast a spell on even the cheapest luxury that removes it from any definite temporal placement and makes it desirable and just a little sad. A pup tent in a living room, a glowing globe, dalmatian mice, the dream of a school aquarium, leopard sharks, an invisible tiger, the idea of doing anything in secret, record players, bicycles, adventurers, track suits, school blazers, orphaned boys, a dead father's glasses. We want to possess these things or, at the very least, hold on to them as symbolic objects of something lost or secret within our own selves. Anderson's films manage an alchemy. They close the distance between childhood and adulthood and treat everyone within their world, regardless of actual age, as the same confused equal on a daring, everyday adventure.
In broad terms, the story follows twelve year old couple Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) on their rather melancholic escape from their lives as misunderstood, troubled youths. All of the action is set on a small New England island where somehow every lighthouse, fence, and inlet reads as lovingly handmade. It's here where the orphaned Sam attends camp as a wilderness prepared Khaki Scout, and it's here where bookworm Suzy spies on her distracted mother (Frances McDormand) with her pair of ever-present binoculars. The two strike up a pen-pal friendship and soon decide to disappear into the woods and make a break for god knows where, much to the chagrin of the island's adult inhabitants. On the way, they encounter everything they seem to have suspected was already out there: they come face to face with death, accept their burgeoning sexuality without question, move comfortably into uncertainty, yet have the hardest time (as so many adults do) reconciling their steadfast independence with crippling abandonment issues. They are alone together, but truly alone just isn't an option. Similarly, in the way of any good children's story, they are in possession of their own totems. Coonskin caps, Francoise Hardy records, tattered fantasy novels, Benjamin Britten operas, well-worn saddle shoes. Sam asserts at one point that Suzy gets her powers from her binoculars, and, strangely, it's easy to believe that this is the case.