So I stepped into one of those little mini-mazes the movie theaters set up to guide, control, and gently feed the ticket buyers, in orderly fashion, to the ticket windows. A few people were already at the windows buying tickets, but no one else was next in line.
However, two women, likely in their late 50’s or early 60’s were standing in mid-maze.
‘Excuse me, are you ladies going to buy tickets?‘ ‘Not yet, we are still deciding what to see. You may pass us – any recommendations?‘
I said that I was going to see Moonrise Kingdom. And they asked what is it about?
I said that I couldn’t say more than it would take you back to the time when you were both 12!
They said that sounds interesting and they followed me towards the ticket window. I never saw them after that as I lost about 7 minutes waiting in line to buy snacks.
But yes, Moonrise Kingdom, directed by Wes Anderson and written by Anderson and Roman Coppola, is about two 12 year-olds. While it is not quite a coming-of-age film, it is truly about an adventure that the two kids take, and what is even more interesting is that this film is not a film that seems to have been designed for today’s kids. Instead it seems that Anderson created this film for people in their late 50’s and early 60’s, because they are the ones who can mostly likely identify with people who would have been 12-13-14 years old in the 1960’s.
Of course, being 12-13-14 might be the same at any point in history (up to a point) with only the influential toys, clothing, and other things like cultural idols, icons, and artifacts changing over the years.
On New Penzance Island, a mythical island – actually the film was shot in Rhode Island – Sam Shakusky, a 12 year old Khaki Scount has gone missing. Scout Master Ward, played by Edward Norton, discovers this only after making his morning inspection and then sitting down at the Mess where the place settings and the headcount of seated scouts differ by a count of one. Who’s missing?, asks the Scout Master.
It takes them a few moments to figure out that it is Shakusky. His tent is zipped from the inside, but this isn’t much of barrier. After Ward unzips the tent entrance, they peer inside the tent and see no one …
… and the mystery immediately intensifies. In a remarkable feat of stating the obvious, Ward says, Shakusky has flown the coop. Peeling back a poster taped on the inside tent wall. they discover a hole big enough to crawl through.
Now we’ve seen this before. The poster of Miss Fuzzybritches (Raquel Welsh) was used in the exact same way in The Shawshank Redemption. This bit of cultural time shifting was Anderson’s tribute to Shawshank – what made it funny was that when outside the tent the hole would be obvious to anyone walking by.
At about the same time another 12 year old – this time it is one Suzy Bishop, has also gone missing. She’s not a scout, nor much of a camper or knowledgeable woodsperson. But she and Sam are kindred spirits as well as a young couple who have fallen in love, made a pact, and run away together. Their relationship began a year ago and over this period they’ve grown from friends to romantic friends via an intense exchange of letters – the handwritten kind delivered by what we now call snail mail. In 1965, which is the setting of the film, this was known simply as – mail.
The towns folk turn the island upside down looking for the kids. Chief among them is island’s sole policeman – Captain Sharp (a subdued Bruce Willis), Suzy’s parents the Bishops played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand,
the aforementioned Scout Master Ward, Scout Troop Commander Pierce played by Harvey Keitel, plus assorted and ‘armed’ scouts.
In case you were wondering, Shakusky was an orphan who lived with foster parents, who, after receiving a call from Ward alerting them that Sam had gone missing – they politely informed Ward, that if Sam was found, they would not be inviting him back into their home. Sam was also sort of on the outs with the rest of the Khaki Scouts. They too viewed him as ‘disturbed’ and treated him with scorn.
Suzy Bishop was definitely not an orphan. She had both parents and three smaller brothers who would race to the dinner table when they weren’t listening to a recorded lesson explaining symphonic music and orchestras. They lived in a home that was also a place of importance because it was a home attached to a small lighthouse. The place wasn’t that big but somehow the parents, when calling the kids to dinner, or when the need arose to call out to some one in the family – a 5″ Round Hailer/ Foghorn Speaker was used.
I thought that was funny too – it was another of Wes Anderson’s delightful twists on real or cinematic life. Most of the time, in the movies, when we’ve seen this type of audio amplifier, we’ve heard, “Your house is completely surrounded. Throw out your weapons, then come out with your hands raised above your head.”
Well Suzy’s folks thought their daughter was a bit off center too. After Suzy found a pamphlet atop the refrigerator which was entitled something like Living with a Disturbed Child, or Raising a Problem Child – that sealed the deal. She’d run off with Sam.
What could be better? Sam tells her, As you come out of the house, walk 400 yards north until you come to the dirt path that has no name . Follow that path and we’ll meet in the meadow.
After which they’d hike off a distance of about three miles,
then pitch a tent at the Tidal Inlet and live happily ever after in their very own Moonrise Kingdom. Suzy brought her kitten, a week’s supply of cat food, a portable record player and extra batteries, three of her most beloved books, and not much else other than a suitcase filled with romantic notions, earnestness, and a heartfelt desire to live apart from her symphonically inclined younger brothers and her folks who communicated by yelling out of windows or speaking through that hailer.
Sam was fully equipped to set up a homestead, sorry, tentstead on that lovely little cove blessed with a small bit of a private beachfront. He was good at fishing, trapping, erecting a tent, making campfires but not so good at dancing. He also created some earrings for his beloved which involved a DIY ear-piercing (sort of a symbolic deflowering of young Suzy). Instead of drop pearl earrings he went to the next best thing in his price range and current geographical location – the ever popular drop beatle earrings.
This is your set up for Moonrise Kingdom. It is a fanciful film. The settings, and the look and feel of the era are artfully recreated right down to Bill Murray wearing madras plaid trousers. Anderson’s attention to details is nothing short of amazing. And endearing, as was the artifical Greek Chorus/ Narrator played by Bob Balaban in a red coat and a knit hat.
Balaban’s role was not specifically defined but he fit in somewhere between being the town looney and Mr. Sandman from everyone’s childhood dreams. Worthy of mention is the picaresque music which ranged from fugues, to angelic choruses, to the 1940’s hillybilly sung, banjo-strummed ditties that sound so familiar even though you know you aren’t hearing them on the radio these days.
Just to add some ‘dangerous elements’ to this sweetheart of a story, there’s an Nor’easter on its way. That’s a real bad storm – the New England version of a near hurricane. The island could be flooded in spots. There might be power outages. Trees could fall over. Everyone’s shoes and socks would get soaked. Then there’s Social Services – the agency in charge of parentless/homeless children. In this film, Social Services was not only a state run agency, but was also the name of the character played by Tilda Swinton. She was a softer and gentler version of Margaret Hamilton‘s Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West, who we all remember from The Wizard of Oz. ‘Social Services’ was a woman to be feared despite the fact that she lacked a troop of flying monkeys.
Watching the film was simply an enjoyable and fun experience. There are plenty of laugh out load moments that are completely devoid of crudeness, outhouse humor, or other stuff usually associated with 12 year olds. Anderson wonderfully takes us back and forth somewhere between the edges of surrealism and the outer districts of realism.
And speaking of 12 years olds, I can’t say enough about the two leads – Jared Gilman as Sam, and Kara Hayward as Suzy. You’ll love them.
I’m saying that you’ll be delighted with this film. I’m saying that you’ll be ever so glad you went to see it; and I’m saying that you will be discussing it with your friends. In fact I’ll score it at four point five out of five and give it a ‘don’t miss it’ characterization.