Wes Anderson makes me nostalgic for things I’d forgotten, or possibly never even knew existed.
I never forlornly peered through a pair of binoculars at my window, as the 12-year-old heroine of Moonrise Kingdom does, but I related to her solitary vigil nonetheless. Trapped in a house with only younger brothers and lawyer parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) so emotionally remote they address each other as “counselor” and sleep in separate twin beds, young Suzy (Kara Hayward) is restless, dreamy, itching for a way out.
So when she meets fellow old soul Sam (Jared Gilman), a nature scout and orphan who wears a coonskin cap and smokes a pipe—he’s, not surprisingly, reviled by his fellow scouts—they instantly recognize each other as kindred spirits and conspire to run away together.
As the film starts, the scout master (an earnest Edward Norton, all sorts of adorable) notices that Sam is missing. He launches a search party aided by his troops—they’re all secretly thrilled to be putting their scout training to actual use. He also enlists the help of the town sheriff (Bruce Willis), who happens to be having an affair with Suzy’s mother.
As always, Anderson crams his film with icons of a precocious childhood (in this case, in the 60s)— compasses, maps, letters, young adult novels with elaborate illustrations on their covers, battery-operated record players. I think it’s because of the specificity of Anderson’s images that they become so evocative.
Of course, the meticulous, doll-house-like worlds that Anderson creates have a strange property—they’re simultaneously familiar and uncanny. He constructs what I call reverse dioramas—he takes the real world, then miniaturizes it, then blows it back up. (If he were to keep doing this over and over again, the world would be unrecognizable—as it is, it’s just slightly distorted enough to give us a sense of renewed wonder.)
The adults in Moonrise Kingdom range from self-important (a hilariously pompous Murray) to self-effacing (Willis’s sheriff, who freely admits that he’s not as smart as Sam is) to dastardly (Tilda Swinton, a villain so Kafka-esque, she answers to the name Social Services) to the well-behaved but secretly heroic (Norton)—but none of them have the wisdom of the two 12-year-old leads.
On a simple level, Moonrise Kingdom is a classic love story about two perfectly matched people waiting for the world to catch up. But it’s also, as all of Anderson’s films are to some extent, about memory and childhood itself. Consider me transported.