Well Met by Moonrise Kingdom



I’m late in reviewing Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, but the movie’s been on my mind, despite the fact that I saw it a couple of months ago, which gives you some idea of how good I think it is. Most movies, after all, disappear into vapor as soon as you leave the theater.

You’ve got to go to a Wes Anderson movie in the right mood. Don’t go when you’re tired or when you’re angry or, as I did, when you’re trying to escape the worst drought in the  history of the universe. And don’t go expecting to see a well-plotted, well-acted movie with high production values. It ain’t about those things.

To paraphrase Dylan Thomas, go playfully into that good movie.

It’s a movie, like Anderson’s masterpiece, The Royal Tennenbaums, about the struggle to find a place in the world. Anderson’s primary characters are, in some fundamental sense, parentless, like the children in the fairy tales his characters read. Here Suzy’s parents seem barely aware of each other, their large, rambling house providing separation, so much so that family members must be called to the dinner table by bullhorn.

It’s not surprising that, in a family that lacks passion, humor, or even simple friendliness, the daughter who runs away is lured by an adventurous boy who wants to create a world in which those missing elements exist. In effect, she and her nominal boyfriend create a box for those missing elements, then stare inside, hoping they’ll appear. The young runaways aren’t really in love; they’re like alien lab techs trying to emulate human behavior. Inevitably they will be caught and forced to return to their lives. Anderson doesn’t reach for traditional climaxes, but there’s a moment when Sam’s scoutmaster passes judgment on Sam’s tent-making skills that is as warm and life-affirming as anything you’ll find in movies that make more overt attempts to tug the heartstrings.

It’s a movie where children play at being adults, perhaps because the adults in their lives are also playing at being adults. Anderson’s movies are all about their quirky tone, and this one’s a dry social satire. It dares you not to get the joke, as if a group of bored summer campers decided to mount a production of Terrence Malick’s Badlands, another movie about ill-fated lovers.

In the end, their adventure behind them, Sam creates something that seems to say that perhaps only in art can we have the kind of life that rises above the annoyances, inadequacies, and disappointments of so-called adult life.