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The Best of 2012: 'Moonrise Kingdom'

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Moonrise Kingdom (2012)


2012 offers yet another intricate love story (see also Silver Linings Playbook, A Royal Affair, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Hitchcock, The Day He Arrives, which are also on my Best of 2012 list). This time, we are offered a romantic comedy featuring two young teenagers as seen through the eyes of quirky, symmetrical filmmaker Wes Anderson. Unlike the aforementioned films, Moonrise Kingdom is the only story that functions as a coming-of-age story. Sam and Suzy are two kids that seem to have families that are completely unaware of their loneliness and indifference to everything around them. Their families are too caught up within their own busy, oddball worlds to even realize that Sam and Suzy know each other through constant letter exchanges and binocular-spying of each other. Leave it to a classic case of children running away for a shut-in mansion family and an army of boy scouts to discover who their children truly are.

Set in 1965, this tale of exploration occurs at a time when Western culture was just beginning its transition from the clean-cut, happy homemaker Camelot days to the long-haired, experimental days of the anti-Establishment. Portrayed by the talented and surprisingly subtle Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, Sam and Suzy are starcrossed lovers from very different backgrounds. Sam is a very capable boy scout with a detailed knowledge of the topography of New Penzance Island and possesses a very old-fashioned appreciation of Suzy, the blossoming teenager. Suzy is an avid reader and lover of music who sees Sam as the only person in their entire world (the island namely) that understands her. Like the best love stories, this adorably innocent couple faces lifechanging events that come off like the greatest dates of all time to any spectator while learning about each other in the process. At the same time, these kids begin to transition from children to young adults over the next few days; refusing any help from the established grown-ups, their Scout Leader, the police, and “Social Services.” There is almost a Charlie Brown charm to this film. All the adults seem hard-to-read emotionally while the children seem more logical and capable. This doesn't necessarily mean that the adults are two-dimensional. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman round out the cast of parents and guardians, all hiding something about themselves under their stoic, hardened shells. This is a sharp contrast to Sam and Suzy who are just beginning to experience life and all its remarkable surprises. Akin to the world of Charlie Brown, this kingdom of adults and children also makes several references to allegories within literature (the similar Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown has various lessons about growing up). Suzy consistently is reading books that play as parallels to their situations including: Coping with a Troubled Child, Disappearance of the Sixth Grade, and Noye's Fludde (out of the three; the only non-fake published work whose title can be figured out by sounding it out). There, too, are many examples of traditions ala The Peanuts gang's celebrations of holidays seen in church-held costumed plays, Scout merit badge ceremonies and a few dozen others mentioned by the film's mysterious narrator played by the loveable intellectual, Bob Balaban.

Stanley Kubrick's influence as a filmmaker is all over Wes Anderson's works. Both filmmakers prefer to keep the camera fairly stationary, and when it moves, it trucks/tracks only forward and back or sideways to the left and right. Anderson has also acquired Kubrick's love of wide-angle, deep focus lenses for his frames. This enables the audience to see the world that the characters occupy. Out of all of Kubrick's works, 1962's Lolita appears to be Moonrise Kingdom's closest ancestor. Although their plots are very different, both films have a quirky, upbeat and definite nonsensical style (people surviving lightning strikes and motorcycles getting stuck in trees is an amusing tribute to Lolita's folding cots that spring up too quickly and characters surviving gunshots through boxing gloves) attributes a refreshing look at a coming-of-age story while at the same time pokes fun at adults for not seeing things through the eyes of children (Tilda Swinton's character known only as “Social Services” is a prime example of this like Lolita's character of humdrum Professor Humbert Humbert). Unlike the Kubrick dark comedy, Moonrise Kingdom has a light touch that teaches kids to follow their heart and explore their worlds even if their world is limited so far to only a few square miles.