I saw Moonrise Kingdom on Sunday night in a sold-out theatre at the Hackney Picturehouse. So sold-out, in fact, we were confined to the very last row at the back of the Picturehouse’s largest screen. The attic. Banished. Going to an 8:30 film was nevertheless the best way to wrap up the warmest weekend I’ve experienced in my (almost) three years in the UK.
The film has been called a triumphant ‘oddity’ by critics, many of whom seem to think it deserves the praise it’s currently enjoying. Wes Anderson: he’s a conversation unto himself, isn’t he? Talking about Wes Anderson films is self-caricature. He’s a successful band whose disgruntled core of throwback fans talk bitterly about how the first few albums were better. But they still queue for tickets. And so did I. What is it about Moonrise Kingdom that drew me in, although reluctantly, as if I was attending a friend’s wedding whose boyfriend I hated? The promise of a technicolour diorama. Posh isolation. Inevitable references to past characters. Margot Tenenbaum’s wooden finger as a ratio of Suzy Bishop’s knocked knees. The Wes Anderson brand and its indulgence. The mint chocolate chip ice-cream of modern filmmakers.
Sure, the cookie cutter props and life-in-futura-typeface were very much a feature. And in some scenes, Anderson’s uncomfortably meticulous tendencies produced breathtaking scenes, as seen through a vintage Land’s End anorak. Moonrise also made me mourn for a painful but ideal childhood I myself never had (maybe none of us have had it — I suspect Maurice Sendak would feel the same), and a sense of adventure that died with the advent of online social networks and new forms of parental fear. But Wes Anderson fans have attended that funeral before. Steve Zissou was perhaps a more harrowing reminder of childhood’s ghost because he was that figure that haunts all children and stays with them until they are adults: the fallen childhood hero. This time there were two new elements that, in my opinion, earned Moonrise a unique place in Anderson’s portfolio, and caused me to inch closer to the screen to experience them unfold:
Sam Shakusky’s shortsightedness: who doesn’t love a kid in glasses? But what if that kid would rather not see if he had the choice? Jared Gilman’s Sam doesn’t want your help, but it would help if you gave him a minute to gather his thoughts, because he is astounding. Suzy Bishop knows this, of course but so too do the film’s other Peter Pan adult men we grow to sympathise with. Walt Bishop is lost to us, but Scout Master Randy Ward and Captain Sharp remind us of the pain of ‘seeing grown men cry’ and the shame many societies place on adult male tears.
Suzy Bishop’s rage: she is frighteningly in-tune with the depths of her own thoughts and the wrath of her words. Through Suzy, Anderson proves that ‘troubled children’ are often denied the subjectivity of their own complex emotions. The adult gaze and widely-accepted notion of Stage Theory wrongfully assumes that children grow into complicated adults. As if they cannot be complicated to begin with. In Moonrise Kingdom, adults are locked out of these complexities, and are shown only the most violent manifestations. Although the film is not an attempt to speak for children, it doesn’t invite adults in per se. Somehow it only lets us glimpse. It has been argued that Wes Anderson is a boy who will never grow up; Peter Pan with a collection of Super 8 cameras and a props budget. he inevitably superimposes his identity on the worlds his avatars inhabit. Is this why Suzy walks a fine line between idyllic freak and Lana del Rey? This possibly explains her almost God-like quality on-screen, a girl in the mind of a new Axe deodorant customer.
There is a deep melancholy that runs through the fictional New Penzance, where the film is set. And the extraordinary meteoric events that bring the film to a crescendo do not wash it away, but give it a different glow. Anderson has never given his characters the privilege of a happy ending. Those have never quite been the domain of boys, anyway. At least not in the storybook sense. Aptly, it is Suzy who doesn’t travel without her storybooks, and there is a scene where she is reading out aloud to a group of boy scouts which made me think about the siloed streams of boy and girlhood; of girl toys and boy toys, and the way cross-gender friendships evolve with age. As they trek through forests, one in a dress and the other in a boy scout’s uniform, Sam and Suzy embody the way it was, and I hope (for adventure’s true sake), the way it will never be again.