Moonrise Kingdom

“I wish I was an orphan. All my favorite characters are. Your lives are just more special.” “I love you, but you don’t know what you are talking about.”

Taken out of context, this exchange might seem alarming, but nestled in the ironic distance, crisply colored images, articulate language, and balance between the rational and the surreal of Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola’s screenplay, it is just right. The movie’s screenplay creates an enchanting world, both like and unlike ours, in which its characters live. An unrealistic reality, perfect fantasy, dream-like world full of romance and adventure – a world where tree houses tower at unsafe altitudes, a mother communicates with her family through a megaphone, a boy wears an eye patch to cover a lazy eye, a government agent’s name can simply be Social Services, and true love can grow between two adolescent pen pals over a series of hand-written letters, all without question. This is the world of Wes Anderson.

Starring newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, as well as an outstanding supporting cast including Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton, Moonrise is a romantic dramedy set in New England in the 1960s that follows Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop, two children frustrated by their current family and living situations, who run away together to an island to live freely and be in love. The contrast between the story’s disquieting premise and the way it is handled yields so much of what is enjoyable about this film. Anderson tackles heavy topics like abandonment, dysfunctional families, and the need to escape, by creating an environment where two twelve-year olds running away seems safe, adventurous, and justified.

He pays tribute to the emotions and anxieties of childhood, and looks at them through an empathetic lens. He glorifies and justifies Sam’s and Suzy’s fantasy, and juxtaposes it with the mundane, passionless lives of the adults around them. In one scene we see Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) sleeping in separate beds, and later we find out that her mother is having affair with Bruce Willis’ character.

The film is extraordinary because it is able to communicate to adults as well as children. The child protagonists allow adults to be brought back in time to their own childhood, reminding them of the angst and anxiety of being a kid. The film offers an opportunity of escape from reality and into the wonderfully terrifying world of childhood, in much the same way that Suzy escapes through her stolen fantasy novels and French vinyl records.

Moonrise has a lot stylistically in common with Anderson’s previous work, namely his tendency to place the camera on the line of action, drawing attention to the film’s stylization, and creating an ironic distance between the camera and its subjects.  Anderson also has a propensity for geometric framings – in which characters look directly at and into the camera – and deadpan irony in dialogue. Moonrise also explores similar themes from Anderson’s other films, like The Darjeeling Limited, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. A nostalgic return to the glory of childhood and the past, Moonrise offers a reversal of the common father and son unity motif, a typical theme in Wes Anderson’s work. As The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou explores a son trying to find his father, Moonrise Kingdom offers the idea of a father (Bruce Willis) searching for and uniting with a son.

Moonrise marks the third Oscar nomination for Anderson, previously nominated for Royal Tenenbaums (Best Screenplay), and Fantastic Mr. Fox (Best Animated Feature). The film’s unique voice, and odd blending of reality and fantasy, provide reason for it’s well-deserved nomination, making it not only one of the best screenplays of the year, but one of the best films of the year.