film: Moonrise Kingdom

I'm a poor critic.

Not because I lack strong opinions but because I dislike examining my motivations when it comes to things I love. Why do I love it? I don't really know, and I'd rather not risk disrupting its magic by taking it apart looking for reasons.

It strikes me the way early medical researchers thought they'd plumb the secrets of the mind and personality by slicing up dead people's brains. There are things to be learned from the activity, certainly, but the process provides no answers to the original question.

Still, sometimes I'll find myself with an insight or two sprung fully formed as from the forehead of Zeus. In the case of Moonrise Kingdom there are two reasons- one, a friend on Facebook harangued it for a mountain of perceived failings that I took issue with, which made me consider my affection for Wes Anderson with a more critical eye than usual. Two, more than nearly any contemporary filmmaker Mr. Anderson's ovure is 'of a piece' both stylistically and philosophically. A thought or insight regarding one film is, moreso than with most other filmmakers, applicable to all of his work.

So, Moonrise Kingdom was a terrific film. On first viewing, my favorite film of his and his best, most moving and complete work.

Now, why?
It is the film where he enters most fully into the netherworld of preadolescence, a continuing preoccupation and the space where he does his finest, most penetrating work (see: Rushmore). While his films all present similar facades (even the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox feels more particularly Anderson-ish than any previous movie) his career has been one of evolution and metamorphosis. His insular, self referential bent reached a level of fractal complexity in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, requiring him to break out into the larger world, spiritual as well as physical, with his next film, Darjeeling Limited. Then a turn to the literal, going from paraphrasing the storybooks and heroes of his childhood to directly re-telling and expanding on one with The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

 At last, lessons fully integrated, we come to Moonrise Kingdom.

It is a magic film, moreso even than the entirely fanciful Mr. Fox. And more powerful for it- the fairy dust infusing Moonrise would be more expected and so less startling & penetrating in an animated film.

The childhood tales are incarnated as books in the suitcase of one young protagonist, carried away from her collapsed family as Moses bore clay tablets down from the mountain. Efforts to live their Utopian dream fail, as Utopias must, assailed by nature in the form of a cleansing storm and the Patriarchy in forms both more (Social Services, Tilda Swinton at her most glassily officious) and less (sad sack scout troop leader Edward Norton, weary sherrif Bruce Willis) inimical. Unexpected succor comes from the heretofor hostile scout troop, heeding the plight of their emotional equals over the demands of the adult power structure which holds sway over their lives.

 In the penultimate scene, a church, spiritual sanctuary but also haven for its own Patriarchy, is beset on all sides. Benign adults confront malign ones, while the weather batters all and the fugitive children in the choir loft peer down on the carnage from behind felt animal masks, echoing Mr. Fox. A conclusion is reached, with the epilogue narrated by a decidedly Zissou-esque Bob Balaban.

The Utopia is gone, extinguished physically by the storm and the necessary accommodation with the adult world. But it lives on spiritually as the final shot swirls around to a canvas Sam has been painting. As he escapes out the second story window the picture is revealed: a landscape of the children's vanished seaside idyll, labeled Moonrise Kingdom.

What better summary of Mr. Anderson's career thus far?

He has crafted a tale to stand tall in the company of the children's stories he loves, a fairy story which holds the adult world up to scathing inspection. I have to post this now or it risks vanishing into the netherworld of unfinished updates. I may have more to say later, but for now let it be known I will fight anyone who doesn't love this movie.


Anna said...

I'm usually not a Wes Anderson fan, but I loved this one -- found it very, very moving.

What does it mean that we actually agree on a film?? THE END IS NIGH!

baxie said...

I'm glad I don't have to fight you.

Anna said...

Who would have crawled away alive???