A BEAUTIFULLY BLOODY PAGEANT: Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom

I saw Moonrise Kingdom the other night and couldn’t let myself slip away into dreamland without first writing down a few of the things and moments that especially struck me.

Bob Balaban! He is an enigmatic gnome, a slightly surreal, out-of-time, omniscient narrator who knows the past and the future, who knows the land and the weather.

Jared Gilman, who plays Sam has an incredibly earnest and determined way of wrapping his mouth around words. He bites off consonants just where they end, embellishing emphases where they belong, and he seems delighted, instead of ashamed, by the strange and unfamiliar topography of words he has perhaps read or heard grown-ups say, but hasn’t ever actually said himself. He’s making the noble effort to say what he says just right. His diction proudly declares his wonderfully, frustratingly middling position on the spectrum of child > adult. Though I’m sure this was all part of Anderson’s intention, Gilman seems to be naturally comfortable breathing wet and lisping life into this precise and super-appealing sensibility on screen.

The choir music throughout is haunting, but brave and dreamy and inspiring, also. It is the sound of Peter Pan magic — of eternal childhood. And it serves as a grand and worthy backdrop for Sam, a man-boy on a boy’s adventure fueled by a man’s desires. This mash-up seems to be a big part of the movie’s driving force, as if there’s a subliminal message flashing at the audience between each scene: “CHILDREN ARE PEOPLE TOO!” And with this an invitation to remember: “You were a person when you were a child! What a weird prison to not be taken seriously by adults! Don’t perpetuate ageist oppression!”

Further: Ed Norton’s character, Jason Schwartzman’s character, Bruce Willis’s character, Bill Murray’s character, and (and Frances McDormand’s character) are all boy-men — camp is a world within reality where the distinction between childhood and adulthood is blurred (councilors wear the same costumes as their campers, young people are taught how to fend for themselves in the ageless wilderness); an extramarital affair is a secret world, created by grown-ups who wish to slip out of the realities of their familial responsibilities; and I hate to rain on the humor of Bill Murray’s character, but alcoholism is an escape from restrictive adulthood (and parenthood) into a childish, playful world in which a man can get halfway through cutting down a tree just for the heck of it. This is what we all want. We all want to be both forever, and adults kind of get to be. It’s tougher for kids.

On one hand, Moonrise Kingdom shows us that we can’t realistically be both — it’s not practical for parents to be irresponsible, and kids have to follow (slightly arbitrary) rules so that their parents can relax in the soothing belief that “the kids are safe. We’ve done our job.” BUT we all bend these rules, and this seems to be the essential and endlessly appealing spirit of Anderson’s films. Life is more fun when we shirk our responsibilities, when we unhinge from our frames a bit, when we live slightly beyond the bounds of of what’s expected of us, when we create our own roles within society. And all the characters in Moonrise do achieve that in the end, with varying degrees of success (ranging from Bill Murray to Sam).

With Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson once again tackles big, inspiring, stuff, and presents it as a beautifully-staged, heartily human pageant.