Moonrise Kingdom is a love letter to all of us pre-pubescent dreamers. The plotters. The schemers. Those of us who felt too big for the small world we were forced to inhabit.
Those of us who, at 12, were ready to be 32.
Moonrise Kingdom is a love story as pure and virginal as a secluded island cove. 12-year-olds Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) meet randomly during a church performance of Noye’s Fludde and become best of pen pals.
They are both outcasts: Sam, an orphan, lives in a foster home and attends a scout camp, Camp Ivanhoe, on the island of New Penzance during the summers. Suzy, a problem child (we know this because she finds a book her parents have that says as much), lives on the island with her family. They bond through their shared familial unhappiness and make a pact to run away.
Their disappearance pulls in the island’s authorities – the adults: Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), and Suzy’s parents – Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). Together, they form a complicated and slightly kooky group.
The conflict here stems from the adult’s inability to recognize or allow the love shared between Sam and Suzy. They’re young so they can’t know what it is to want another person in that way.
Yet, the film takes the sides of the kids. Their bond is sweet and uncomplicated. They dance on the sandy beach of the cove, which they call Moonrise Kingdom, and share a first kiss (even trying the french style). They’re a better example of love than we get from the adults in the film, too. The Bishops don’t share a bed, and Mrs. Bishop carries an affair with Captain Sharp for a good portion of the film. And if that’s what their love is, it doesn’t hold a candle to what Sam and Suzy have.
Wes Anderson, the director, is a master of images and choreography. We’re first introduced to the Bishop house in a complicated tracking shot that goes left-to-right, right-to-left, up-to-down, and down-to-up. We meet Camp Ivanhoe in a similar tracking shot, this one entirely linear – and one of the film’s best moments. The shared choreography of the camera and its subjects is what makes Wes Anderson Wes Anderson, and it (along with his kitschy pastels) imbues the film with the kind of fantastical romanticism exhibited by pre-pubescent lovers who dream without knowing any better.
It’s this tone that injects the film with a special bit of tragedy.
The problem with being 32 is that we’re ready to be 12 again.