Every couple years I get to enter what I call Wes’ World, by buying a movie ticket and seeing the new Wes Anderson film on the big screen, as he intends them to be experienced–at least for the first couple viewings, and assuming there are several subsequent ones. It is hard to imagine another writer and director who makes films that are more detailed and rewatchable if–and only if–you are on the Anderson bus, so to speak. And you’re either on the bus, or you’re off it, and it has been near impossible to convince naysayers to climb aboard and enjoy the ride.
Anderson makes films that are happy to wear their hearts on their well-tailored, vintage sleeves. And there is little need for suspension of disbelief–you know when you are in Wes’s world, with his balanced and fluid shots, pastel color palate, meticulous prop and wardrobe department and eccentric characters playing their parts. And this is the point. It is comforting, and mesmerizing, and playful, and reminds you of that childhood art project where you figured out how to get everything just right. Perhaps ironically, this is also what makes these films so genuine and so heartfelt.
I suppose part of me leaves a film like Moonrise Kingdom jealous that a director and screenwriter has found the freedom to create the worlds that he does, and inhabit them with actors who are always ready and willing to strut and fret on his stage. In Moonrise, Bill Murray is the mainstay, and Ed Norton, Bruce Willis and Frances McDormand are the newcomers, along with the two inexperienced but perfect leads of Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. Everyone finds their parts in the doll house, whether this is home in a lighthouse on the far side of the island, or a summer camp pup tent at Troop 55 headquarters of the Khaki Scouts.
The oft-criticized The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which I count as one of my favorites to enjoy time and time again, was seen by some as a warning for auteurs against going too big, with too much money and ambition at ones disposal. But the idea was a clever documentary within documentary, but really a play within a play inhabited by a group of deep sea explorers and documentarians, the way a child would in part imagine them existing. They were loyal and committed, they each had specific roles to play as part of the team, they got issued cool uniforms and Glock handguns, but most importantly they were the members of the team that they helped to create–a group of outsiders who finally found a home aboard the ship the Belafonte, with Steve Z. (Murray) playing the role of captain.
Moonrise Kingdom presents something close to the opposite: the backdrop becomes these clubs, from the Khaki Scouts that Sam formally resigns from and a foster family that he is asked not to come back to, to a dysfunctional family that Suzy feels alienated from and relies on young adult fantasy novels to find some altered reality to be a part of.
Sam and Suzy both want to escape, and with each other. But this is trickier said than done, especially in a fictitious archipelago off the coast of New England. Instead Sam and Suzy are forced to confront these communities and put into question their exclusivity and organization. Steve Z. said it best in The Life Aquatic when trying to convince his possible son, Ned, that he should join his team, after Ned expresses reservations based on inexperience: “We’re a pack of strays. Don’t you get it?” Fortunately, eventually Ned does, and I suppose Sam and Suzy would be strong candidates for red caps and a speedos as honorary members of Team Zissou; maybe they could even share a Glock between them.
One of Anderon’s trademark stylistic moves has been concluding films with a slow motion action sequence with cool music by David Bowie or the Kinks. With the risk of ruining this anticipation and commenting on the ending, in Moonrise we get something refreshing and different. One of the final shots is of a painting composed from the memory of our protagonist Sam of a perfect spot, preserving a perfect afternoon spent with Suzy as best he can.
Moonrise Kingdom is a painting of a memory-fantasy brought to life, and Anderson’s vision of two young outsiders in love is near perfect.