Posted June 8, 2012 by D. K. Holm
2012 may be turning out to be one of the best years for film. Not only have we had a new Whit Stillman and two new Soderberghs and two Joss Whedon-related works, but the recent Cannes film festival highlighted new films by Michael Haneke, Dario Argento, Leos Carax, Audiard, Cronenberg, Miiki, and Andrew Dominik. Over the remaining half year there will be a new Alien film, a new Batman, a newBourne, and a new Paul Thomas Anderson effort.
Now we have a new Wes Anderson film. Moonrise Kingdom takes place over the course of a few days in September of 1965 as Sam Shakusky, an orphaned boy disliked by his scout troupe, and Suzy Bishop, a bookworm with anger management issues from a dysfunctional family, attempt to run away together for 10 days of Blue Lagoon isolation. The search by Suzy’s parents, the local gendarme, the scout master, and other interested if peripheral people results in a series of tense confrontations matched by a mounting hurricane destined to go down in meteorological history.
Not only is Moonrise Kingdom one of Wes Anderson’s better films, it also provides a key to his curious oeuvre. The key resides in the romantic breast of Suzy (played by newcomer Kara Hayward). She spends most of her free time reading girls’ adventure books, all of them with evocative titles by authors made up for the film. One of them, nearly appropriately, is The Sixth Grade Class that Disappeared. Suzy’s escape into kids adventure lit gives entrée into her own adventure, and so the film presents her “reality” as like that of a kids book. In fact, the viewer realizes that almost all of Anderson’s films are in essence kids stories for adults. They have the simplicity of narrative matched with the depth of psychology and the obsession with parents – both missing and present – that dominate children’s literature. “Impossible” things happen in Moonrise Kingdom as it goes along, but that is appropriate for a children’s tale.
There must be a lot of turmoil in the Andersonian brain, because he likes his films to look precise. He wants his worlds mapped out. The camera often moves laterally to take in complete sets. Characters are often positioned facing the camera at eye level in medium long shot. He likes to show things, objects (always use your objects to tell your story, said Billy Wilder), timetables, schedules. He is as in love with words as Truffaut, and doesn’t just read love letters on the soundtrack but shows the words in big close ups.
It’s difficult to tell where Anderson’s style comes from, it blends so many different influences. He’s not afraid to address the camera as part of an elliptical style that cuts out a lot of deadweight, all within a theatrical context that oft times pretends that the movie is taking place within the confines of a stage proscenium. He likes overhead shots looking straight down on tables, desks, maps, and this evokes images of the past such as various shots in Taxi Driver, shot by Michael Chapman, and Drugstore Cowboy, shot by Eric Edwards. Anderson’s DP for Moonrise is Robert D. Yeoman. Equally important is the music in Anderson’s films, from the British Invasion ofRushmore to the yí-yí songs of Françoise Hardy and the symphonies of Benjamine Britten, as well as, surprisingly, Hank Williams. Like Stillman’s films, Anderson’s come in a style like that of few others. Nor are they to everyone’s taste. While Stillman goes in for elaborately articulate characters, Anderson prefers deadpan, his characters faces having little affect, even his most passionate creatures, while the film around them revels in a visual style that matches the Art Nouveau-style influences of Maxfield Parrish with the precision of M. C. Escher, both resulting in works that strike many viewers as twee and precious. They can be like condensed, pure versions of Harold and Maude.
Undervalued, perhaps, are the performances that Anderson gets from various cast members, from Bill Murray and Coen-favorite Frances McDormand as the Bishops, Bruce Willis as the cop, Edward Norton as the scout master, and Anderson-regular Jason Schwartzman as “Cousin Ben,” the Milo Minderbinder of the scouts.
Anderson’s precise style can wear on you, though. As you watch, you might be tempted to think, This is nice to look at but what’s so new about it? What is its purpose? What is its reason to live? What Anderson brings that is new is the notion of two equally infatuated lovers, even if they are only 12. Suzy represents a new direction in Anderson’s portrayal of women, and it is – cautiously – optimistic.