Wes Anderson / USA / 2012 / 94mins
According to a 2011 report by The Children’s Society, over 100,000 kids run away from home every year. Wes Anderson’s newest comedy tackles this issue in his characteristic manner which cloaks serious human problems behind quirky and whimsical circumstances, tinted with a soft yellowish hue.
Trapped on Rhode Island, pre-pubescent lovers Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) have eloped. However, Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand), Sam’s Khaki Scout leader (Edward Norton) with troop and the Island Police (Bruce Willis) are determined to intervene. Shadowing the action, an ominous storm threatens to interrupt the island’s perceived tranquillity.
As with Anderson’s previous work, particularly The Life Aquatic, a veil of fantastical realism is laid over the narrative. By embellishing some of the mundane aspects (the scout’s carpentry skills) and ignoring the others, Anderson turns a straightforward story about two runaways into an epic adventure. The director’s absurdist reality is repeatedly referenced through Suzy’s passion for fantasy literature, with the forewarning of the turbulent conclusion and the infallibility of the couple’s love even resembling Greek mythology. But like myths, Anderson uses the abstract nature of the situation to make a point about real life, the bizarre circumstances of the plot heightening the triviality of the subtext – namely what the family situation must be to make a child run away.
Moonrise Kingdom is bursting with techniques that are now synonymous with Andersonian filmmaking. Long, single tracking shots (like his Am-Ex advert) introduce objects, scenery and/or characters in a specified order while giving the illusion of storyline progression, as with the Khaki Scout’s morning inspection. Like the tracking shots, the reveals, either by panning out or through object removal, as with Richie’s shaving scene in The Royal Tenenbaums, emphasise how every scene is a deliberately constructed image containing all the information needed to understand the plot. In this respect, if the dialogue were removed, Anderson’s films would become sequences of meticulously planned frames that effortlessly tell a story.
Anderson also favours moving the camera away from and quickly back to the action rather than cutting shots together. This keeps those scenes fluid, and representing the turn of a head, makes audiences feel more involved in the film. On screen letters allow Anderson to show the nature of his characters: Sam and Suzy’s childish, badly written and misspelled letter, which parallels Max Fisher’s cursive handwriting in Rushmore, adds a depth to his characters that would otherwise be lost. Anderson embraces his soundtracks, using choral pieces and popular artists like David Bowie, and isn’t afraid to incorporate it into the narrative as with Seu Jorge’s role in The Life Aquatic. Anderson’s near trademark slow-motion walking scenes accompanied by music, perfectly spoofed in his John McCain campaign video, show a canny ability to exploit music’s emotional role in cinema.
In depending on the same cinematic procedures, there’s a danger of Anderson’s work becoming predictable. Already, his auteurism is instantly recognisable. His frequent casting of Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Anjelica Huston amplifies the similarities throughout his body of work. But just as Schwartzman has matured between Rushmore and Moonrise Kingdom, so to have Anderson’s writing and directing skills. If this move is the first of many creative tinkerings with life’s bleaker aspects, the human connection will displace those doubts over overused methods, leaving any future Anderson production as enjoyable as the rest.
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