Decoding a Wes Anderson Film

Moonrise Kingdom, 2012

Camps, Binoculars, First Love and Summer’s End

“The year is 1965. We are on the far edge of Black Beacon Sound, famous for the ferocious and well-documented storm, which will strike from the east on the 5th of September. In three days’ time”

The Narrator

With these lines, The Narrator (Bob Balaban), dressed like an elf, introduces us to the world of Moonrise Kingdom. Every word spoken points to the themes of this film and asks one important question,

Who exactly is the adult here?

Like all Wes Anderson films, this one has symmetry, almost to the point of obsession. At the same time, the world he builds is always chaotic. This co-existence signifies contradiction. In the very first scene, the four Bishop children spend time playing childhood games with pretend adults’ expression. Mr and Mrs Bishop (portrayed by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) have four children – one girl and three boys. Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) is their oldest child and at odds with the world around her.

Camp Ivanhoe, an all boys’ camp is neatly run by Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton), similar to an army boot camp. The rules are in place until Randy and his boys discover that Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) has runaway. Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) enters the picture. We get to know that Sam is an efficient Khaki Scout and an orphan, moving from one foster family to another. A non-violent rescue operation, led by Scout Master, is ordered to find our young man.Later, in the film, we see that its anything but that. Moonrise Kingdom is a fantastical, dangerous place.

In three days’ time, their world turns topsy turvy, coinciding with the looming storm.

“Jiminy Cricket, he flew the coop”, Scout Master Randy Ward

Following the non-linear structure of the story, we see that Sam and Suzy, both 12-year olds, are in love and have mutually decided to run away to be together. On their first date, the audience gets a glimpse of their inner lives – Sam is a realist and a survivor while Suzy is more in tune with her quiet feminine strength. Their conversation borders on the absurd where they talk about sticking leaves on the head to calm down and putting pebbles in the mouth to quench thirst – childhood beliefs that become less real as we are thrown in the whirlpool of adolescence.

Summer’s End, the house where the effluent Bishops live is also a metaphor of the summer of pre-adolescence coming to an end. Both of them fly away, symbolic of how baby birds learn to fly and carve their own paths.

Sam and Suzy fall in love at first sight at a children’s play titled, Noye’sFludde, organised by the Church. Suzy plays a raven, another metaphor of how different she is from her peers. Sam is indolent and leaves the play, setting the stage for them, to meet. They find each other when the rest of the world doesn’t make the effort to understand them – both, introverted, full of depth and fearless in their individuality, even if they are not quite comfortable in their skin.Sam chooses to be inside his own headwhile Suzy takes refuge in her books, andhas an intense anger as she watches the world glide by through her binoculars.Wes Anderson’s use of this is a brilliant subversion of how childrenare not always heard and make sense of their surroundings through observation.

 Colours, Costume and Music in Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson weaves colours in his storytelling in a manner where they become part of the narrative. Muted yellow gives a photograph feel to Moonrise Kingdom. Like we are going through the pages of a photo album, rather than watching a film. Yellow is also memory and the island, ChickchawTerritory where the young lovers escape to, and re-name “Moonrise Kingdom” eventually becomes another photo in their album.

Pink gives a comical feel to this film, again, muted. Moss green and earthy brown further add to the sepia tinged celebration of childhood in this film. The filmmaker gives mature and darker shades to children, precisely because they behave like adults. One of the most beautiful scenes in this film is an awkward dance sequence which ends up in a kiss, symbolic of how children are unprepared for the dangers of the world, when they should be listened to. That moment is respite Sam and Suzy. In one scene, the scouts who dislike him have a conversation amongst themselves where they talk about how disadvantaged Sam is, showing us that people are capable of empathy.

In a world where stereotypes say that men wear blue and women wear pink, Wes Anderson chooses to use other colours. That men cannot be categorized is seen in the use of black and white for Captain Sharpe, brown for Randy Ward, and drab patterns to show adults caught in the endless cycle of #adulting and who make questionable life choices, actively brushing real talk under the rug. Likewise, muted pink depicts the suppressed rage within Suzy who is both angry and nurturing.

Comical costumes are reserved for the adults who behave like children, as in the case of The Narrator and Mr Bishop who wears yellow and brown checkered pants.

Singer songwriter, Hank Williams and English pianist and conductor, Benjamin Brittenfeature prominently in a soundtrack that sets the chaotic mood of the film. Alexandre Desplat who has worked with Wes Anderson before has given the background score in this film, perfectly curating and capturing the old soul quality of lost childhood

Religion and Rituals: Into Adulthood

As the island of New Penzance descends into chaos with two children missing and a looming storm, the Church prepares to save the people. Just like Noah builds an ark, the spirit of community gives hope.The storm destroys and saves the people in the island, following which, abundance returns in the form of healthy relationships, in an otherwise dysfunctional world.

The filmmaker inverts the lens where we see children taking rituals seriously. Sam makes earrings for Suzy – the piercing of her ears is more than just that; it’s a rite of passage. Now, they’re both adults. Their decision to take their new born love to a more concrete union in another children’s camp is in itself a lampooning of societal expectations. The audience knows this even if our protagonists are serious. In this, we see the detached empathy of Wes Anderson.

Why should you watch (and re-watch) this film?

Because, who really wants to be an adult!


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