Unlike other of Wes Anderson’s fellow auteurs (e.g. Tim Burton, Michel Gondry, and the Coen Brothers), the writer-director is capable of continuously adding something new to a motif he has consistently explored in all of his films: Alienation from conventional behavior and salvation through an equally alienated counterpart. Teaming up with Roman Coppola for the second time (The Darjeeling Limited being their prior collaboration), the writing duo conveys an immediate familiarity with the audience.
Robert Yeoman, who is no stranger to Anderson’s arsenal (the two have worked together on Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Hotel Chevalier, and The Darjeeling Limited), contributes greatly to the feeling of camaraderie one instantly has with Anderson’s story. The simultaneously washed out, yet vibrant look of each scene is what establishes that oh so indescribable companionship most individuals seem to have with Anderson’s films. It’s almost as though Moonrise Kingdom is like a generic strain of country home wallpaper–even though you’ve never seen it before, it is automatically recognizable and comforting to you.
Set in the sequestered coastal New England island of New Penzance (as made up a place as Wadiya), the heroine and hero of the tale, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), both suffer from a distinct lack of social grace. For Suzy, the issues stem from her unpredictable temper and an overall sense of isolation in spite of belonging to a family with three brothers and two overbearing parents. For Sam, on the other hand, the issues stem from being an orphan, often bullied by his peers in the Khaki Scouts. When the disillusioned pair crosses paths at a play in which Suzy plays a raven, their impenetrable bond is forged upon eye contact.
After a year of being devoted pen pals (Suzy lives on Summer’s End, while Sam is relegated to Camp Ivanhoe with the rest of the Khaki Scouts), Sam hatches a plan to run away and take the route of the Chickchaw Harvest Migration Trail (a point of reference that serves as a useful tool for their search party later on when the narrator of the film, the always eccentric Bob Balaban, points out that Sam had a particularly keen fascination with this part of the island’s cartography). Suzy easily agrees to the plan, not wanting to continue her bleak existence inside the confines of her house/eager to spend time with Sam, the only person she has ever been able to find emotional intimacy with.
Sam’s absence from the camp is quickly discovered by the leader of Troop 55, Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton), who reports him as an “escaped Khaki Scout” to the head of Island Police, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). The entire island mobilizes in search of Sam, not yet aware that Suzy, too, is missing–even though Captain Sharp uses Sam’s escape as an excuse to go to the Bishop house to see Suzy’s mother, Laura (Frances McDormand), who he is having a semi-secret affair with. When Laura and her husband, Walt (Bill Murray), finally realize Suzy is gone, they rapidly put together the clues of Suzy and Sam’s clandestine relationship (Laura finds Suzy’s box of letters from Sam, as well as his collection of watercolors–”mostly landscapes and a few nudes.”
Although both Suzy and Sam are twelve years old, it is evident that they share a love more mature than most adults are capable of having. As their trip through the woods continues, they encounter numerous obstacles, including being attacked by members of the Khaki Scouts, resulting in Suzy using her left-handed scissors to inflict a stab wound on one of the boys. In spite of these action-packed moments, there are also brief interludes of tranquility, like when Suzy puts on her Francoise Hardy record and the two dance carelessly on the beach. As they dance, the film borders a hair on the child pornography side (but in a completely tasteful way, if that makes any sense) as they share their first kiss.
As with all of Anderson’s work, the action and dramatic buildup intensifies in the middle of the third act, making it impossible to take your eyes away from the heartrending conclusion. In essence, Moonrise Kingdom makes one wish that all Texans were as gifted and eloquent–and that all blockbusters could invoke as much emotional investment in the characters.