‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is the movie that shows what no book ever could, innocence, and it’s contained in its own world, a world within a world, like a snow globe in time, the remembrance of ourselves past, and the truth of it is beautiful. The director Wes Anderson’s details, his actors, his kingdom, the one the children run away from and the one they run to, are more true and more dear than the audience could ever have imagined.
And the kingdom is childhood and we recognize it instinctively. The feeling is once upon a time, and Anderson’s touch is perfect. He films without irony. Often the camera backs away in long shot so as to seem not to interfere. He takes the wishes of the thirteen year olds and the mid Twentieth Century seriously.
The story is about the summer of life, about a place in America before there is WalMart, and about the pre-adolescence of America in 1965, before the Summer of Love and the Fall of Saigon. No matter what age the viewer, the movie brings something mythic back: the fierceness of innocence, the wrecklessness of it, the power.
Our hero, Sam, is an outsider, in this world but not of it, an orphan, an outcast. Self-reliant, he is a Scout who takes his survival training literally. Joining him as his co runaway is Suzy, the girl misfit, the orphan in her heart, with the portable battery powered phonograph, blue eye shadow, and library books. She, too, is noble, naïve, sensitive, and young.
Sam’s world is inhabited with gumption and danger, hers with literature and song.
They inhabit a world of packs: family packs, Scouting packs, the pack of the two runaways. There is death. A little dog dies. There is the cruelty of the pack against our hero, and there is the gallantry of the pack for the hero and heroine once altruistic impulses take the fore.
There are even adults who are in league with them. Bruce Willis, in one of his best performances, admits, “Kid, you’re probably a lot smarter than I am.” And all the famous adult faces in the movie, Bill Murray, Frances MacDormand, Edward Norton, Jason Swartzman, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swenton, and Bruce Willis, don’t overshadow the two child leads. They are in their service. The two youngsters are not Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, tragic characters who must die for the right to be themselves. They are more in the vein of John Muir and Dorothy Parker, Davy Crockett and Emily Dickinson, American iconoclasts and crackpots.
Wes Anderson stands up for these idealists and the outcasts and the people who want them to succeed. As the movie closes, the forces for good, for idealism, and the forces of the status quo and conformity are in precarious balance. It’s a beautiful symmetry. Nothing yet has tipped over. The seeds of everything noble and ignoble are here, but right now, the innocence is in tact, the hero’s, the heroine’s, and the audience’s.
See Sandra Christenson’s other reviews: “‘Ruby Sparks’:fire is too contained,” ‘”Hope Springs’: sex and marriage therapy 101,” ‘”Dark Knight Rises’ is a must see movie for those over forty”