Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom & Communications Technology

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.
Why did Wes Anderson make the color choice of the film which he did? On the surface, it's easy to see that the yellowing looks older, as if it's one more home video from the "found footage" genre which has just been un-earthed from some New England attic; on the other hand, like a piece of weathered paper, it communicates to the audience that the "life has gone out of it," the vitality and original vibrancy has been lost and that can only be a reflection of our lives today, because "historical films" are never ever about history, they are always taking place in the here and the now.
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.
Suzy with her binoculars watching her mother Mrs. Bishop (Frances McDormand) meeting with police officer Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). They don't do anything but talk, or so it seems; it was during 1964-5 that the harmful effects of smoking were first announced, and Mrs. Bishop is smoking while meeting with Captain Sharp who also smokes (Scout Master Ward, played by Edward Norton, also smokes in the film) and because of what happens to Mrs. Bishop, we can say that the historical awareness of smoking's danger becomes a character critique in the film: the three smokers all have bad things happen to them (Mrs. Bishop is found out by Suzy, Captain Sharp gets dumped by Mrs. Bishop and Scout Master Ward gets demoted for losing his troop). Suzy standing with her binoculars at the light house alerts us to how her binoculars are a symbolic light house for her, because her sight is enhanced (that is, her wisdom and ability to perceive) she has greater "insight" into people; the light house is also a balance against the flash light that her father will be looking for later only to discover that Suzy took the batteries for her record player; in other words, Suzy's wisdom is a light house compared to her father's wisdom that is nothing more but a flashlight with no batteries.
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.
When Scout Master Ward meets with Sam after Sam has been "rescued" he tells Sam that he would have given Sam's campsite a commendable because it was such a good pitched camp site. What does this mean? Houses and homes are symbolic of the soul (like the little cross-stitched image of the Bishops' home we see in the opening frame, suggesting a shallowness or "false picture of perfection" of the life they have in their island home. On the other hand, Sam the orphan has only a pitched camp symbolizing his soul because he has to keep moving from place to place and doesn't have a permanent abode. Sam and Suzy each have something of their parents' with them: Suzy has batteries from her father's flashlight, Sam the pearl and gold pin from his mother. Pearls denote wisdom because it takes as long to form pearls as it does to attain wisdom and the gold of the pin reminds the viewer of the wealth of wisdom, it's more precious than gold.  This is probably the kind of attitude Sam has which makes him unpopular, but once the Scout troop finally decides to back him up, it's because they realize their own masculinity is at stake if they don't do the right thing.
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”). 
The hole which Sam cuts out of his tent lining then covers with a picture references that great film, The Shawshank Redemption, and by doing so, communicates not only the "jailed" feelings that Sam has felt being in Camp Ivanhoe, but also his innocence being falsely prosecuted. Sam initiates an interesting "reversal" of marginalization in the film: Sam is the least liked scout in the group, but through his resignation from the group and running off to meet Suzy, he turns the tables and marginalizes the other scouts, excluding them from his group. The tree house which the scouts are building way up high in the sky on that skinny little tree symbolizes their attitude because they are "above" Sam  but the shaky  tree alerts the viewer to know how dangerous their presumptive airs are.
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.
Bill Murray as Mr. Bishop and Frances McDormand as Mrs. Bishop, parents of Suzy Bishop (and both are lawyers); Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and Island Police Chief Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). In the opening frames, as the camera weaves through the Bishop household, we see Mrs. Bishop naked washing her hair because that's exactly what will happen to her in the film: she will be "exposed" (her affair with Captain Sharp) and she will have a change of attitude (hair symbolizes thoughts, so washing her hair means cleaning her thoughts of bad things). When we see Mr. Bishop, he sits down in a chair that is on top of an animal rug, meaning, he has overcome his animal appetites and desires, whereas those same appetites are just now waking up in his oldest child, Suzy (the kitten).
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.
It's always interesting to discover those little similarities contemporary films have with each other. For example, Brave's Merida has red hair, three younger brothers and she goes on a journey just like Suzy; the difference is, Merida runs away from being married and Suzy runs to being married, Merida is reconciled with her mother and Suzy is (maybe only)to some degree. Merida is good with archery and Suzy is good with leftie scissors. What are some of the other similarities? Let's consider.  In the picture above, we can ask, reasonably, "Why does Suzy bring all that stuff with her?" Because Suzy has a lot of "baggage," and whenever someone with lots of mental troubles does something, they bring "their baggage" with them.  Why does Suzy bring a kitten? Cats have traditionally been a symbol for female sexuality, and the kitten is Suzy's sexuality at a very, very young and innocent stage (remember, please, she's the one who asks Sam if he knows how to French kiss).  This is probably the reason why the "clue" the scouts find is a trashed tin of kitten food and why her father, Mr. Bishop, recognizes it: the "romance" of escaping with Sam and running away from home is "food" for Suzy's undeveloped sense of romance and love (which is really what sexuality means at this youthful age) and that same reason which "feeds" Suzy despairs her father, because he knows the danger they face in being out on their own and that's the cause of the suffering symbolized by the purple rings around Mr. Bishop's eyes.
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?
Moonrise Kingdom is now my favorite Bruce Willis film. Like Jason Statham in Safe, Bruce Willis' character protects the child and thereby protects himself. The role of parent and father is what has been missing from Captain Sharp's law-enforcing life and Captain Sharp being a police officer is probably a scathing commentary on Jacques Lacan's theory of "the law of the father," which juxtaposes the lawyer Mr. Bishop against Captain Sharp and compares the two in the role of fatherhood. For me, this is one of those emotional scenes that shows our vulnerability. Just as Mrs. Bishop has "broken off" relations with Captain Sharp, so Sam has had relations with his foster family broken off and in defending the defenseless from "juvenile refuge," Captain Sharp offers Sam a genuine refuge of love and protection that Sam needs and Captain Sharp needs to give.
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).
Social Services played by Tilda Swinton. Her "blue costume" goes against Suzy's blue eye shadow, because Suzy's eyes of love which she has for Sam is a genuine refuge for the loveless boy whereas the blue suit of Social Services taking the boy "into her care" demonstrates that it's far better for Sam to be with Suzy than in the grip of the government because of the depression he will suffer from being in that government institution.
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).
So who is this guy? It's not that he's a narrator, rather, he's the historical conscience, the voice of reason and destiny. The barely visible white scarf tied about his neck symbolizes what guides him: faith. Because the head is the "governing function" of the body, and because green symbolizes hope, he is able to think hopefully of all the possibilities facing them and red is the color of love because we are willing to shed our blood for those whom we love so he is, basically, a holy saint of history. 
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.