Moonrise Kingdom (Photo credit: olga_murillo)
Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is a wicked, romantic comedy that can be analysed from the soundtrack to the story, so I found myself in a pickle whilst choosing the theme I wanted to write about. It is somehow obvious that this film is dominated by the roles of the children but then, what does it has to reflect about love? Given that is one of the motifs of the story; and about adulthood? Which seems to appear as an absurd and chaotic background. Through the exploration of the well-known attitude of rejection to what is different, the much studied theme of love, the reference to the figure of adults and their behaviour, and the exposure of what makes this movie the playground of children, I will try to show what it has to say about love and the world of adults. Set in 1965, Suzy and Sam are two kids who fall in love and decide to run away together. Sam was a member of the Khaki Scouts, so when they disappear the Captain and his boy-scouts set off to look for him. When Suzy’s parents realise that she has run away, they take the whole family into the quest. The police officer of the town leads the investigation, and when they finally find them in a cove, they turn them apart. Sam, being an orphan, remains in the custody of the police officer until “Social Services” could take care of him. The boy-scouts decide to help them unite again and free both Suzy and Sam, so the adults have to renew the investigation to find them again, but this time Sam is able to remain close to his girl.
“What kind of bird are you?” is what Sam asked Suzy when he first saw her. The girls were getting ready for a play when Sam broke in during an escape from the group he was with. “I am a raven” was Suzy’s answer. They immediately fell in love. This couple is as odd as each one as individual, the attraction between them is comprehensible. Sam is showed to be a very intelligent boy, although problematic, while Suzy has a volatile character and an even more strange behaviour. From the beginning of the movie she appears looking at different places and to people with binoculars, almost as spying on them, later in the film she is shown to be capable of hurting someone or even herself and always wandering in and around the house. Whereas Sam is more adventurous, he likes to explore and experiment, unfortunately those activities seem to have brought problems for him with his different foster parents. The people that surround them remark their oddness and make more evident why, in a world were they are both rejected, suit very well to one another. It is exposed that Sam is not well seen by the boy scouts because he is an orphan:
“Lazy eye: I heard he ran away because his family died.
Scout Gadge: I heard he never had any family in the first place.
Scout Deluca: That’s probably why he’s crazy
Scout Redford: I’ll tell you one thing, if we find him, I’m not going to be the one who forgot to bring a weapon.
Scout Roosevelt: Me neither”
Suzy, in the other hand, has a similar problem with her family
“Walt Bishop: How can we help her? She’s got so many problems. It’s getting worse. Whose fault is it? I don’t know”[…] She doesn’t have any friends.”
Besides, Suzy confesses to Sam that she found on the top of the refrigerator a book titled “Coping with the very troubled child.” and she thinks that it has to do with her.
They see themselves as strangers to other people, they are aware of the effect that their behaviour causes in others, perhaps they even enjoy it. So, meeting for them, could be as taking refugee from the exterior where they do not seem to belong. In their letters they sent to each other, they mention some of their odd behaviour and the people’s perception:
“Dear Suzy, I accidentally built a fire while I was sleeping. I have no memory of this but my foster parents think I am lying. Unfortunately, it is…
Dear Sam: I am in trouble again because I threw a rock through the window. My mother still has glass in her hair. Also…
Sam: Dear Suzy: I have been trying very hard to make friends, but I feel people do not like my personality. In fact, I can understand why they might not…
Suzy: Dear Sam, now I am getting suspended because I got in a fight with Molly. She says I go berserk. Our principal is against me. Why do some…
Sam: Dear Suzy, I know your parents hurt your feelings, but they still love you. That is more important. If they…
Suzy: Dear Sam, I do think you should think of their faces every day, even if it makes you sad. It is too bad they did not leave you more pictures of themselves. Can you…”
Beyond their non-accepted characteristics, they both show special interests that remark more their difference to the rest of their society, Sam is a skilled painter and, at some point, he seems even more wise and eloquent than the Police Officer, Captain Sharp, who later adopts him. Suzy likes to read stories about adventures, girl heroes, kingdoms and magic, and during their escape she carries her books, a record player and her binoculars, which she says is her power, since she can see things at a closer look with them. When they flee together, these interests are the ones they share and enjoy the most. The things that cannot be done or expressed with others are exactly what they show to each other when they get together.
It is commonly believed that couples are attracted by their common interests and vision of the world but in this case, is not only their world view, but what the ‘world’ thinks of them what makes them be together. However, there were many obstacles before them, like their parents and the fact that both were ill-spoken of. So an option was to flee to a lonely and hidden place, where they would not be judged, criticised or censured by anyone, they would be free from limitations and express themselves as well as the feelings they had toward each other. Like in the bedroom, it is in those intimate places where we reveal who we are because the restrictions can be left behind the door. The fact that both are criticised by their societies for their behaviour allows Sam and Suzy to understand each other and share the experience of being outsiders to their social groups, freaks who spend time together, although precocious for their young age. So their need to express who they are and what they want drives them to confine their love in the cove, where they do not just hang around, but also behave like if they were adults:
“Sam: This is our land!
Suzy: Yes it is!
Suzy: Can you French kiss?
Sam: I think so. Is there any secret to it?
Suzy: The tongues touch each other.
Sam: Okay, let’s try it.
Suzy: It feels hard.
Sam: Do you mind?
Suzy: I like it.
Sam: Tilt your head sideways
Suzy: You can touch my chest. I… I think they’re going to grow more.”
The young lovers seem to be like little grown-ups. Suzy wears just underwear while they are in the cove, and Sam is constantly smoking through a pipe. Even more, their love is stronger that any other in the film, for they fight to be together despite the obstacles and threats. Their love is not as romantic as it is full of bizarre experiences and inadequacies.
They are discovered in the cove and torn away. The boy scouts, after the hunt, decide to help them escape from an ill destiny, reflecting on the injustice they committed by judging Sam unfairly. After rescuing Suzy and Sam, they traveled to Fort Lebanon for the fugitives to go further, in the camp Sam and Suzy decide to get married. Even if it was just symbolic, this act reflects the passion and hope of the first love. More is what they do in comparison to the world of the adults that decide to resign to their situations. For Sam and Suzy, their love is worth dying for, by the end of the search to recover them, like in any romantic drama, they have to run and decide whether to live and be separated or died together:
“Suzy: I don’t know, but if it is too shallow, we’ll break our necks anyway. Hang on to me
Suzy: On three again
Sam: Wait. Just in case this is a suicide or they capture us and we never see each other again anymore, I just want to say thank you for marrying me. I’m glad I got to know you, Suzy.”
The two kids facing a terrible decision against the ineptitude of the adults turns them into greater figures than the latter and consequently their love triumphs, perhaps not in acceptance, because they have to keep their secrecy, but at least there is a way besides running away for them to be together. However, the resolution is sweet and sour, for they end up taking the roles that adults already have, and are depicted as the mini figures of what already was there, Sam becomes a mini version of the Captain Sharp, who is now his foster parent, and Suzy is a mini version of her mother, the kids are together just as these two adults are, in clandestinity.
The set of adults in this film does not depict any kind of desired role model, but exactly the opposite, there are several authority figures that are constantly cheated by the young lovers and their later accomplices, the parental figures are chaotic and distant, their actions seem to be inadequate and full of contradictions. First, Suzy’s parents are an example of a couple that are still together more for pity and resignation that for genuine care for each other. Mrs. Bishop is cheating her husband with Captain Sharp, whilst Mr. Bishop spends his time detached from his family, sometimes ignoring where they are and setting a poor example to the children:
“Walt Bishop: Did the judge consider your application for leniency? Rogers v. Yentob?
Laura Bishop: He granted it
Walt Bishop: Great
Laura Bishop: I’m sorry, Walt.
Walt Bishop: It’s not your fault… Which injuries are you apologising for, specifically?
Laura Bishop: Specifically? Whichever ones still hurt.
Walt Bishop: Half of those were self-inflicted… I hope the roof flies off, and I get sucked up into space. You’ll be better off without me.
Laura Bishop: Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
Walt Bishop: Why?
Laura Bishop: We’re all they’ve got, Walt.
Walt Bishop: That’s not enough”
Later in the movie, Mr. Bishop, after finding Suzy with Sam semi-naked in the cove, decides to display a certain pseudo-strength be telling his kids: “ I’ll be out back. I’m going to find a tree to chop down.” Of course the kids cannot care less about him, for they are utterly absorbed playing a game.
Another character is Scout Master Ward whose behaviour in front of the troop, though nice, is contradictory, he checks the chores of the troop whilst smoking and depends on them to get things done in the camp. When Sam escapes, his reaction is to rely in the abilities of the scouts and in Captain Sharp. Ward is single and sets his position of Scout Master as his main job, sits in his tent drinking, smoking in a depressing manner and later, after rescuing Sam the first time, loses the entire troop.
“S.M. Ward: Who’s missing?
S.M. Ward: Shakusky you in there? Sam? It’s zipped from the inside. (he checks the tent and finds a hole behind a map) Jiminy Cricket, he flew the coop.
Walt Bishop: Hold it right there! You’re not leaving this island. Our daughter has been abducted by one of these beige lunatics.
Captain Sharp: Walt, is very clear. The two of them conspired in this together.
S.M. Ward: Don’t worry, Mr. Bishop. She’ll be safe. Sam’s got excellent wilderness skills.
Walt Bishop: Why can’t you control your Scouts!?
S.M. Ward: Well, I’m trying”
Boy Scout: You’re not going to believe this one sir. That Scout Master on New Penzance has now lost his entire troop”
Just as Ward, Captain Sharp relies on the scouts to find Sam and Suzy, it seems ridiculous that both, instead of asking for help to authorities, count on the kids to solve the difficulties. After finding Sam and Suzy the first time, Captain Sharp, perhaps out of a mirroring sensation, remains as custodial guardian of Sam, whilst in the kitchen, Captain Sharp pours beer for Sam while having a conversation:
“Sam: I admit we knew we’d get in trouble. That part’s true. We knew people would be worried, and we still ran away, anyway. But something also happened, which we didn’t do on purpose. When we first met each other, something happened to us.
Captain Sharp: That’s very eloquent. I can’t argue against anything you’re saying. But then again, I don’t have to, ‘cause you’re 12 years old. Look, let’s face it. You’re probably a much more intelligent person than I am. In fact, I guarantee it. But even smart kids stick their finger in electrical sockets sometimes. It takes time to figure things out. It’s been proven by history. All mankind makes mistakes. It’s our job to try to protect you from making the dangerous ones, if we can… You want a slug?”
All the adults are incompetent in their roles, whereas the kids are the ones who get things done. It is the troop who discover the young lovers twice, Sam sets a better camping spot than Scout Master Ward and has an even better loving relationship than Captain Sharp. Suzy is fighting for her love, her mother resigns to hers, and when Mr. Bishop threatens her she replies:
“Walt Bishop: Be advised, the two of you will never see each other again. Those were your last words. Do you understand?
Suzy: I’d be careful if I were you. One of these days, somebody’s going to get pushed too far, and who knows what they’re capable of.
Walt Bishop: Is that a threat?
Suzy: It’s a warning.
Lionel: You’re a traitor to our family.
Suzy: Good. I want to be”
Kids have power over adults because they are in control of the situation. They would do whatever they wanted as many times as needed despite warnings or reprobations, because their role figures just did not know what to do, their actions were inadequate and their mistakes almost absurd. Therefore, everything seems to be focused at the kids, and even though they have the power, they cannot escape from the faith of turning into adults someday.
In the first scene of the movie we appreciate a set alike the illustrations in children’s books –trees painted on the walls– and continuos scenes where children are listening together to Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra followed by scenes of Mr. and Mrs. Bishop in different rooms and doing each one their own activities. From this moment we can perceive a sort of succession between the children and the parents, the kids we see listening attentively to the orchestra will one day become the parents, submerged in their own worlds, they seem to do what they like while the parents have no idea. By the end of each chain of frames from children to parents, Suzy appears looking through her binoculars to the camera, which speaks about a closer look to someone, perhaps the spectator, which would work as for general social criticism. Britten’s piece was commissioned for an education film documentary called Instruments of the Orchestra which gives us an idea that the film will speak about some kind of education, either for us as spectators, for the characters within the movie or for both. In this first scene Mr. and Mrs. Bishop’s children gather around the record player one by one to take the role of an instrument in the orchestra of life. We know that a cycle that will be developed through time when the whole explanation of the piece is finished:
“Kid narrator: In order to show you how a big symphony orchestra is put together, Benjamin Britten has written a big piece of music, which is made up of smaller pieces that show you all the separate parts of the orchestra. These smaller pieces are called variations, which means different ways of playing the same tune. First of all, he lets us hear the tune or the theme, which is a beautiful melody by the much older British composer Henry Purcell. Here is Purcell’s theme played by the whole orchestra together. Now Mr. Britten lets you hear the four different families of the orchestra playing the same Purcell theme in different ways. First, we hear the woodwind family. The flutes, the oboes, the clarinets and the bassoons. Here comes the brass family. The trumpets, the horns, the trombones and the tubas. Now, Mr. Britten arranges the Purcell theme for the string family. The violins, the violas, the cellos and the double basses, and of course the harp. And finally the percussion family, all those drums and gongs and things you hit. After this, you will hear the theme by Purcell, played once more in its original form by all four families together. That is, the whole orchestra
So you see, the composer Benjamin Britten has taken the whole orchestra apart. Now he puts it back together again in a fugue. The instruments come in one after another in the same order as before, beginning with the piccolo. And at the end, when all the instruments have finally come in… (Suzy, Lionel, Murray, Rudy, dinner!)… melody, while the other instruments … (Don’t make us ask twice!)”
In fact, the narration is exactly the structure of the movie, where the characters are presented, then separated, his situations showed one by one and then put together again for the grand finale.
The kids are the focus of the movie, though the role of the adults is important as a contrast and perhaps as a red light for what the children may end up becoming. Adulthood is depicted as the world of chaos and absurd, their decisions are as useless as their own situations. Their future seem gloomy as their present:
“Laura Bishop through a bullhorn: Walt, where the hell are you?
Walt Bishop: Right here. Why are you cursing at me?
Laura Bishop: Does it concern you that your daughter’s just run away from home?
Walt Bishop: That’s a loaded question
Laura Bishop: Come down and read this!”
We also have already seen that little by little children start behaving like adults by putting themselves in the same situations although responding slightly different, but the warning is still there, even though the kids are in control, the cycle may lead them to become just as their parental roles. The ‘piece’ can be played by different families and in different ways through time, over and over again. So, the children will eventually become their parents and will, therefore, make a lot of mistakes just as the latter, and the cycle will continue.
Moonrise Kingdom is a film that criticise society, their actions, consequences and repetitive cycle of mistakes by changing the roles of adults and children and making evident the absurd of what may be ignored from the grown up perspective. It is a parody of life and adulthood represented by children, who at the same time are just characters, film instruments, mirrors of the world of adulthood, of its impotence, its contradictions and its values. The whole film is a play orchestrated and structured in such away that you can perceive not only the cycle, but also those changes that happen between the roles, the innocence and positiveness of young love compared to the doom faith of the adults’ consummated one. This romantic comedy reflects about the purities and impurities of love in different stages, but more than that, reflects in the absurdity that we become as adults and in the redirection of ourselves into a cycle that takes us nowhere. In my point of view this beautifully illustrated depiction of society and its inner circles can make smile more than one person by showing off our own potential inadequacies.