Moonrise Kingdom


I had heard a lot about director Wes Anderson’s quirky and unique style before I saw Moonrise Kingdom, and I have to say those adjectives are pretty accurate. I figured this guy had to be pretty different, because whenever people talk about his movies, it’s always clear that they’re his movies. That’s how they are identified. I haven’t seen any of his others, but I have reasonable confidence I could pick them out unaided if I saw them.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this film was kind of weird. I don’t necessarily mean weird in a good way or a bad way, just a weird way. I really liked the film, but I’m having trouble wrapping my head around it. I don’t know if it’s the story, the character’s, Anderson style, or what. Hopefully I’ll have it figured out by the end of this post. Just to warn you, this post may contain more inconclusive internal musings than most.

The premise of Moonrise Kingdom is pretty simple. Two kids, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) become pen pals and decide to run away together. The story just takes it completely for granted that they’re in love. Whether they are or not… depends on your definition I suppose. But regardless, this sends everybody on the island where they live out looking for them. Why they go out looking for them is also something that’s not really addressed. The Narrator (Bob Balaban), informs us from time to time that a storm is approaching, so I assume that this is the main reason for setting out to find the children. Nobody says any of the typical movie lines you’d expect to come with this situation, such as “Oh no! We have to find them!” or “Where is my baby?” or at least it is not emphasized. Sam’s parents are dead, and he is being raised by a foster family. When Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) notifies his foster parents that he’s gone missing (he was at Khaki Scout Camp), they just say they can’t take him back. That’s all. Suzy’s parents (Francis McDormand and Bill Murray) don’t seem to care about her that much either, and yet they spend the whole movie looking for her. Maybe they are just trying to act as concerned parents, or possibly trying not to act too concerned. It’s the principle of the thing. (maybe?)

adultsSo anyway, the chase is on. The Khaki Scouts, lead by Ward (Ed Norton), Captain Sharp, and Suzy’s family all try to track them down. Suzy and Sam are able to stay ahead of them for awhile, but the Scouts eventually catch up with them and Suzy ends up stabbing one of them with “a pair of lefty-scissors” and they are able to escape to an undiscovered part of the island. They spend their days reading, swimming, and falling in love (awww). It is pretty cute, but there is a current of darkness running under everything. They talk to each other about how isolated they feel; Sam has no real family and none of the other scouts in the troop like him because he’s strange, and Suzy’s parents don’t pay much attention to her and she often gets into fights at school. While they are happy to be together, there is still a sadness lingering around everything.

This mostly happiness doesn’t last; they are eventually discovered. This part is pretty hilarious: Bill Murray tries to unzip the tent, and then just lifts the whole thing up. (It’s funnier than it sounds, trust me). This reveals Sam and Suzy holding each other, and they literally have to be forced apart. They are returned home, but of course this is no easy matter with Sam because his foster family won’t take him back. Sharp and Ward are then forced to call Social Services (Tilda Swinton). Yes, that is the character’s literal name. This, along with the fact the Sam’s former house literally said “Foster Home” on the side of it, leads me to believe that Anderson’s not a big fan of societal institutions. Social Services is clearly painted as the bad guy (or woman): she over-reacts to Sam’s case, deciding that he will have to be institutionalized based on misinformation in his file. Sharp and Ward try to set her straight, but it doesn’t work. Gotta stick to the file.


This creates a bigger urgency for the kids to escape, even though they may not know it. The Khaki Scouts decide to stand with Sam, even though they initially disliked him, and help him escape. He won’t leave without Suzy, but luckily they got her out too. They head over to another Khaki Scout camp, and get married. Not legally binding, of course, but I suppose this another example of Anderson’s distaste for institutions. They get “married” just like that, and by another scout (I could not even tell how old that guy was, it was weird). This scene was cute as well, but still very serious, and the scout that married them even waived his fee. This sets them out on another boat, where Sam can get a “job” scouting with another troupe.

I’m still not quite sure what Moonrise Kingdom is trying to do with it’s story really. When watching it, I was constantly reminded of my childhood, and I’m reasonably confident that that’s what this film is about. What specifically it’s saying about childhood, that I’m not so sure. Is it a death of innocence type thing? I don’t really want to say it is, because let’s face it: Suzy stabs a Khaki Scout with lefty scissors. That’s at the beginning, so she hasn’t really grown up. All of the kids had their adult-like moments. Everybody seemed to talk in the same serious, deadpan way for the most part, something I am more inclined to associate with adulthood. This somehow made it very humorous at times. It’s really hard to characterize any of them or any of their actions as strictly “adult” or strictly “childlike.” Since that’s what I got out of it, maybe that’s Anderson’s point. Adults are not so responsible and reasonable, and children aren’t so simple and innocent as maybe most people believe they are.

wedding I have no idea if Anderson intended this or not, but I saw a lot of possible references to other films. There’s a part during an escape where Suzy and Sam are deciding whether or not to jump of a high building into the water. Sam’s not a strong swimmer. My mind immediately went to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Taking this back to the adult/children idea, Sam was way more upfront about his lack of swimming skills than Sundance was; he had told Suzy he wasn’t a good swimmer back at the beginning. Like two seconds after this, they actually did end up dangling off of said building, and you want to know what I thought? The Russians are Coming, The Russian are Coming. All of the characters running around a 60s New England island all day long reminded me of that film too. However, this gets a twist from Russians: Sharp is hanging off the building too, and in the other film it’s only one kid. Perhaps more adult and children similarity that Anderson is trying to get us to think about. Anderson doesn’t show us how they get down in his film, but the adults in Russians all work together to get the kid down. I really wish he had shown that now, so I could further accuse him of referencing other films (honestly, I feel like I might be making all of this up over here).

There is one reference that I am absolutely sure was intentional, and that was to Benjamin Britten. Britten was a 20th century English composer. There is a record playing at the beginning and end of the film, with musically educational type narration. He’s talking about how Britten in a particular piece (not sure which one, but after a visit to wikipedia I am led to believe it is The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra) has the sections, or “families,” play separately and then brings them together at the end. All of the families in the film were separated, and then brought back together. This narration makes me think Anderson intended this as a more of a myth type story; the children go off on a journey, and then have a return and all (or at least most) of the problems are solved. Another fun fact, Anderson did use a piece of Britten’s that I did recognize: “Playfull Pizzicato” which he wrote parts of as a child. But you know, composing serious pieces of music is a task usually reserved for adults, and he didn’t finish it until he was 20 (that slack!).

I don’t want to come across as though I didn’t like this film, I really did. I think the best way to describe my reaction was the following: it was the same feeling I get when I try to read German. I understand the vague, basic idea, but it’s hard for me to give it back to you when I try to explain it. Wes Anderson’s film making style is like a whole new language to me I suppose, and I’m not yet fluent enough to effectively translate.

mansgottahaveagoodmap “I love you, but you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Long story short: 3.5/4 stars

6 responses to “Moonrise Kingdom

  1. Good review Hunter. One of my favorite flicks of the year and one that shows Anderson can do what he always does, but also keep a great deal of sense, heart, and humor in-tact as well.

    • Thanks! I feel like I really need to see some more Anderson films just to get used to his style of film making, because it’s definitely unique. I think another viewing of this one wouldn’t hurt either. I really enjoyed watching the film, but it was kind of hard for me to get any sort of cohesive message out of it. But I loved the film, so I’m up for another try when I get the chance.
      I especially loved Ed Norton’s character. “Jimmeny Cricket! He flew the coop!” Hilarious.

    • When I realized it was Playful Pizzicato, I freaked out. It such a better piece when SOMEONE ELSE is playing it. Worked great in the film. I wish I was more proficient in Britten to catch all of the references though. The opera thing they were doing was definitely Britten because I saw it on the sign. Britten did an opera of Turn of the Screw, though it wasn’t in here. Just a fun fact.

  2. “I’m still not quite sure what Moonrise Kingdom is trying to do with it’s story really. When watching it, I was constantly reminded of my childhood, and I’m reasonably confident that that’s what this film is about.”

    Yeah, there’s a lot to say about childhood vs adulthood… its kind of a running theme through a lot of Anderson’s flicks. The style is an important element… it gives it a certain charm that the film really, actually depennds on, I think.

    It’ll grow on you as you catch more of his movies 🙂

    • Yeah, I plan to catch some more of his films eventually. Don’t know when because I got a bunch of stuff lined up already, but I’ll get there. Hopefully I’ll get used to his style so I can get through to his points.
      The story itself screams “message about childhood!” but from the first viewing I couldn’t really tell what it was definitively. I didn’t have a problem with it, other than it made the message less clear. Personally I’m fine with it, but objectively it gets in the way. Kind of like what I was saying about Anna Karenina in my earlier post… but this not as bad as that one because I couldn’t flat out say “Anderson is not making any sense,” I just had more of like a Master sense that he was presenting me with something to think about rather than just being confusing for the sake of being artistic.
      There were a lot of great moments and the film was engrossing enough that it’s enjoyable without trying to hardcore analyze.

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