There are few things quite as intriguing, and yet familiar in cinema than a Wes Anderson film. He manages to invent a world of his own, with his own rules, and yet the central story always carries resonance with its audience. Moonrise Kingdom is yet another brilliant Anderson-esque tale, carrying with it plenty of nostalgia and some uncomfortable truths.
It’s 1965, and we’re on a peaceful Khaki scout camp. Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) wakes up one morning and finds that one of the scouts, Sam (Jared Gilman), has run away during the night, leaving a note behind telling them not to even try looking for him. Ward heads straight to the local Sherriff, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), who immediately organises a search for the missing scout. However, things take an unexpected turn when local residents Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Francis McDormand) find that their daughter Suzy (Kara Hayward) has also ran away during the night. The young Suzy and Sam are in love, and want to run away to a remote part of the island to live out the rest of their lives together, far away from any of the adults that control their lives.
Considering the all-star cast this film displays (including cameos from Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton), you’d expect the two child actors at the heart of the film to get lost in the story. If anything, it could be other way around. The glittering line-up doesn’t have that much screen time, while Sam and Suzy are given the audience’s full attention. This is for the best of course, considering this is supposed to be their love story. It’s also a coming of age story, filled with all the delights of childhood innocence and confidence. Only two children would believe that they could actually run away together and live the rest of their lives in a secret cove by the beach.
Anderson paints for us a truthful, and occasionally brutally honest picture of what the kids are running away from. Bill Murray and Francis McDormand play Suzy’s parents. They’re stuck in a stricken marriage that seems to have been doomed for quite some time, and the fact that they see something of themselves in the young couple unsettles them. Suzy hates her mother when she finds a pamphlet in the house about dealing with a troubled child. Here lies the film’s really unsettling truth – some parents really will do anything to make sure their kids don’t turn out like them. Then we have Bruce Willis’ Sherriff. A sad and lost soul, struggling to get over the regrets he has in life. He actually sees something of himself in the young Khaki scout Sam, trying hard to run away from his oppressive surroundings and claim his true love. This is what the kids are really running away from – turning into an adult.
It is the surrounding stories and character relationships that make the central love story work so well. The young actors Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are quite simply superb in the central roles. Despite all of this, there is actually another key element that makes this such a delightful winner. Sam is considered to be socially challenged, and is hated by his fellow scouts. He has no friends. Suzy is considered a troubled child, and has difficulty finding someone who really understands her. She has no friends. Wes Anderson then throws them both together; just to prove that no matter how big an outsider you may feel you are, if you look hard enough you will never be alone.
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