veemignon: (galaxy)
[personal profile] veemignon
I once read a review that likened Wes Anderson's sets to dollhouses. This is perhaps the most apt statement I have read about his work. Every little detail is important and it has made me extra vigilant in catching the small details. There is importance in everything in Moonrise Kingdom, down to the binoculars that Suzy constantly gazes through.

This is the kind of film that makes the analyzer in me very excited. While Anderson has disappointed me from time to time, it isn't the horribly depressed disappointment that leads to anger. And while I haven't loved everything he's released, his films are always interesting. I didn't love The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, but it's an interesting film. Films like The Royal Tennenbaums and Rushmore make me continually return to Anderson. And now I can say that films like Moonrise Kingdom make me return to his work.

The reviews will tell you that Moonrise Kingdom is a story about first love. What this film is really about is the creative person between reason and creativity (chaos) and how said creative person can learn to negotiate the two into a proper balance. It's also about problems in adults and how they trickle down to the children no matter how hard adults try to keep their secrets.

What I love about Anderson's films is how he always depicts children as very adult-like, and this is entirely different from being precocious. Children perform a crude mimicry of what they think adulthood is like. This is why they're always fascinated with the age group ahead of them. However, when juxtaposed to the adults in Moonrise Kingdom, it makes them seem so childish in comparison. We don't outgrow these petty acts. In fact, the children are more adult in that at least they act out on their feelings. They don't put up walls to try and hide their secrets.

In life, on the island, there's authoritative figures and there's nature. The authoritative figures are often deemed weak. Edward Norton's scout master is incapable of keeping his group together. Bruce Willis is a flawed police officer. But it's their failings that make them human. While they may seem weak in the eyes of other authoritative figures, they're stronger in their character for their failings. When the scouts question him about his job, their scout master first says that he's a math teacher. Then, he corrects it and says that he's a scout master first. His character has a relationship to both reason and nature, but they're balanced. This makes him a stronger character than the lead scout master, who seems inhuman in comparison. And when it really comes down to it, Norton's character proves to be the stronger human.

The police officer is a man who is torn between being an authoritative figure and being a passionate man. He's having an affair with Suzy's mother, Laura (a lawyer), but he ends up transferring that affection to the boy, Sam. Suzy's parents are lawyers who are stuck in the land of reason, with no hope of chaos in their lives. A conversation between Suzy and her mother reveals that Laura gave up on her inner child long ago; this leads to an estranged relationship between mother and daughter. The police officer hasn't given up on his inner child though and this is why he wants to protect Sam so badly. By protecting Sam, he's protecting his inner child, and allowing him to be a stronger human being.

Perhaps the most antagonistic figure is Tilda Swinton's social worker, who simply wants to collect Sam and send him off to an orphanage like he's a package. While she seems strong, she's actually a very weak character who is absolutely inhuman. After delivering the news to the scout master, she hangs up and looks through book to find the next child, as if it's clockwork to her. Though she should have Sam's best interests at heart, she doesn't. She wants to get rid of him and believes him to be crazy. There's a running joke where Suzy attacks one of the boys and everyone blames it on Sam, because they'll believe that the orphan would do something violent, but not the girl from a good family.

The film centers on Sam's love for Suzy. They met once, at a play based on the story of Noah's ark and he fell madly in love with her. They began writing and eventually planned Suzy's escape from her parents. The two run away together, which causes much trouble for the adults involved. Except Sam's foster parents. He's uninvited from ever going back to them. Suzy is equal parts dream girl and Kali. When Sam first meets her, she's dressed as a raven, a creature we often associate with death. Ravens and crows are carrion eaters and have commonly been associated with deities of death. She also carries a pair of lucky scissors which associates her with the youngest of the Greek Fates, the one who would snip the threads of life. Her character is steeped in the role of goddess of life and death.

Sam and Suzy are eventually found by his troop. They're armed and one attacks. Suzy blanks out, but when the film returns to her, one of the boys is screaming and she's holding a pair of bloody scissors. She admits that she just goes blank, she goes berserk and doesn't remember anything of what happened. Much like when Kali would go into a rage. Sam's an artist, he paints landscapes and nudes. Suzy is his dream girl, who contains everything creative about him. But she also represents death. When the island is flooded and they've climbed as high as they can go onto the church steeple, she insinuates that they should jump. When the police officer stops them, he's holding onto Sam who's holding onto Suzy, as if she jumped and Sam held onto her. But Sam's between reason and chaos. He's holding onto both. He has to learn how to balance the two. One could say that this whole adventure is his trip into chaos, to get away from the rigid constraints of order. He has to learn that the two are harmonious together.

Nature is very strong in this film, flooding towns, lightning storms that destroy buildings . . . The authoritative figures have to learn that they are nothing in the face of nature. You can build strong structure, you can build up all the walls that you want, but nature will pull them down with indifference. This is seen in the adult's relationship with the children. No matter how much they wish to control the feelings of the children, it's something that's out of their hands. You can't control something that strong. And when nature takes out those strong figures, the characters who are truly strong come out.

One of these authoritative figures is a boy, shown to shepherd the group of kids he's been handed in his troop. He hates Sam for no discernible reason. Once Suzy, a figment of nature, takes him out, the other boys begin to question their hatred of Sam. They realize that they have no reason to hate him and decide to help Sam. Often you see this in groups, where one is the leader and once they're taken out, the rest of the group falls into shambles or they question their previous beliefs.

Though nature strikes down some of the children, they're never hurt by it. This is related to Noah, who worked with the animals and nature instead of fighting it. The reason why the adults can't find their children is because they're working against nature. The children are working with it, as they express their feelings and respect the land (as scouts). Like Noah, nature does not hurt them. In one scene, Sam is struck by lightning, but he gets right back up with no wounds. This could be seen as being struck by god, but it can also be a creative impulse. And later, when Suzy kisses him, she's lightly shocked and remarks that he's still electrified. It's that impulse that runs through creative people; when you're on, you're really on and it runs through you until you hit a dearth.

There's also the aspect that Sam is an orphan. Many a creative person makes themselves an orphan to society, rather than a literal orphan. Perhaps there's a difference in thought or they're always off into space. In some way, they orphan themselves from society. And perhaps Suzy is a projection as well as a dream girl. Perhaps she leads Sam back into society like Gradiva led Norbert back. (His anima, maybe)

This is a richly layered film that constantly makes me think back to what I saw. And for that reason, I think it's the best film that I've seen all year. This is the one time when the hype matched the film and I'm so glad it did. Obviously, I haven't caught everything so I readily welcome discussion on this film. And I respect a film that completely clothes the actors in their characters. I hope this becomes a trend again in costume design.
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February 2013

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