For his fans, film maker Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic, The Royal Tennenbaums) has many virtues and each is drawn to his characters and stories for different reasons: for me, the attraction lies in Anderson’s ability to gently lift the veil of vulnerability covering each of us to reveal in his characters our greatest pain and fear, our greatest hopes and desires; in other words, that which makes us most human, also makes us most vulnerable, and once again, in Moonrise Kingdom, he has demonstrated our frail humanity caught in the violence of the storm and why we should cherish our frailty, in ourselves and others.
Like Melancholia, Moonrise Kingdom provides the audience with a “road map” of where it’s going to take us through the Benjamin Britten Orchestration for Young People that opens the film. The record played tells us what the structure of the film is and how it's going to function: each group of characters gets their own moments to shine and contribute to the whole product Anderson provides but what is the theme each individual brings to the whole? Parenthood and communication are at least two, although there are far more and a myriad possible interpretations to this film. As always, what I am writing is neither right nor wrong, just my observations in hopes it will aid you in your own engagement of the film. The events being chronicled in Moonrise Kingdom take place between 1964 (when Sam and Suzy first meet) to 1965, September 5 when the big storm takes place. The specificity of the timeline, as in Rock Of Ages when people are cued at exact moments to begin unimportant tasks, reminds us of the specific moments in history when America was becoming America, through great events and small ones. One of those great events would not only change America, but the world as well, and that was the launching of the first tele-communications satellite known as “Early Bird.” It’s not sufficient to say that, just because the film takes place in 1965 and the satellite was launched that Moonrise Kingdom invokes that event, however, when Sam first sees Suzy he asks her, “What kind of bird are you?” and Sam wears the designation for his Khaki Scouts as being a “Pidgeon” scout, (not to mention that head scout master Ward, upon seeing that Sam has escaped from his tent uses the expression, “He flew the coop”). So why is the bird references to this satellite important?
Anderson aptly demonstrates how America (and the world) was reaching out into space to better communicate with those across the ocean, but we still couldn’t communicate with those living in the same house. For example, Mrs. Bishop uses a bull horn to communicate with everyone in her home, which is unnecessary because, as Mr. Bishop says, “Right here.” Why does she do this? She obviously doesn’t believe that her husband is “right there” with her, because she’s not right there with him, rather, she’s carrying on an affair with Captain Sharp and just as she has run away mentally and emotionally just as Suzy as run away from home with Sam, and Mrs. Bishop believes that Mr. Bishop has run away from home as well.
We see the use of technology for communication consistently through out the film, such as Captain Sharp using the walkie talkie when they are up on the church steeple, the “person-to-person” calls put into Social Services, the recording of the Camp Ivanhoe log on the tape recorder, the bull horn Mrs. Bishop uses; the disparity between our high-tech today and the quaint record players of then begs the question: is technology really a means of aiding communication, or impeding communication? The film’s own perfect example would be Scout Master Ward telling Sam that his status as an orphan “Wasn’t on the register,” because he didn’t think to ask Sam personally about his parents, because he depended on the register, and because there is a register, he didn't need actual and personal communication; because Ward has made a habit of recording his thoughts and emotions on the recorder, he doesn't seek out the personal relationships he should have that would have better aided him to help Sam. It’s on the walkie-talkie, however, that Sam is able to accept Captain Sharp’s “invitation” to come stay with him so Sam isn’t taken to “juvenile refuge” and that appears to be Anderson’s wise commentary on technology.
Technology ‘s status as “good” or “bad,” as we all know, is determined by how we use it, for what end, and why; Anderson’s purpose in the film, however, seems to be to remind us that we form habits with technology which are not easily overcome or broken (consider Suzy lugging that record player around both times she runs away, she’s addicted to it but it’s also a part of her “baggage” of self-identity because the records express for her what she cannot express about herself; that’s what art does for us all and that’s why it’s so important). Anderson seems to be putting the question to us though: what is the point of communicating with people across the ocean when we can't even communicate with the people in our own home?
Suzy’s use of binoculars is opposite of her mother’s use of the bull horn: whereas her mother wants to be heard far away, Suzy wants to see what is far away, and even what is close up, hence the reason for her blue eye shadow (which we saw Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) wearing in his not-so-best-disguise in Sherlock Holmes A Game Of Shadows) which symbolizes wisdom (blue is the color of both wisdom and depression because the road of wisdom is often paved with sorrow; at the end of the Book of Job in the Old Testament, one of the “new daughters” which God blesses Job with is called in Hebrew “Horn of eye Make-up” because eye make up highlights the wisdom Job has gained because of his trials).
Like his daughter, Mr. Bishop’s eyes are “highlighted." We see him with large purple bruises around his eyes and someone says that he fell into a ditch; he then chimes in that Suzy had stolen the batteries to his flashlight (for the record player) so he couldn’t see. Purple is the color of suffering but also of royalty: because he is the head of the household (royalty) he is suffering the most at the foolishness of his daughter (please compare this to Brave when it's the mother who suffers because the daughter has run off). “Seeing in the dark” is a spiritual condition, the “dark night of the soul,” such as what Job endured and what Mr. Bishop goes through when his daughter runs away from home (this can be re-affirmed in the scene when Mr. Bishop comes down the stairs and goes to a closet, takes out an axe and tells his sons, “I’m going to go out back and chop down a tree,” then we later see him sitting on the ground, all the tree chopped into but a small piece allowing the tree to continue standing up, which also symbolizes the Tree Of the Cross, or his faith; cutting down the tree means that he has nearly divorced himself from God, but not quite).
What is up with the opening "documentary" about New Penance? If you watch the background carefully, there is far more interesting things taking place than the rather boring statistics and facts the narrator supplies; why? Because that's how the film is and that's how we are! Just as the characters can't be summed up in a few facts and figures, but have emotions and psychologies, so too do we; while the facts are fine, the chaos that makes us humans is far more important to us as people.
There are a million intricacies to the film, but the one I would like to close with is the "nude" of Suzy which Sam does. Of course Sam hasn't seen Suzy nude, but she thinks it's of her because she believes that Sam sees her "as she is" without her social mask and the defense of her coverings. When it's shown to her father, Mr. Bishop has no idea what he's looking at. To some degree, that's fine because parents should love their children with a kind of paradise in their eyes, but it also "reveals" how Mr. Bishop doesn't know who Suzy really is. Where is Moonrise Kingdom? America. A moon only rises at night and, like Mr. Bishop going through the dark night of the soul, Moonrise Kingdom seems to suggest that we as a country are entering into the dark night of our soul when we will be a kingdom with only the light of the moon and we must use all the wisdom we have from the sources we have in order to survive "the big storm" that's coming.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
P.S.--If you are a Bill Murray fan, here's a funny little intro he gives to the film and the stage.