Everyone in Moonrise Kingdom (2012; dir. Wes Anderson) wears clothes that are too small. Their trousers ride up, and their skirts are tight. The adults look foolish, especially the men, and the children, who are in transition anyway, look both young and older, two versions of themselves in single bodies. Set in the 1960s in a small town near a lake always shrouded with fog and mist, the film presents us with a perpetual summer camp.
Moonrise Kingdom is a children’s romance, a romance in the sense that 12-year-olds would imagine for themselves, not one much aware of the world beyond their own circles of awareness, not one that will ever end. This film treats its children as innocents. You laugh at them and feel exasperated by them and love them. (This is if you are watching the film as an adult. Many younger viewers will identify with the children). Most of all you remember and long for that same period of your life—the transitional phase of adolescence, when girls grow faster than boys, when boys resemble gangly and awkward buffoons, where everything lies ahead of you, where you’re not really aware of the constraints of your lives, where you have no real apprehension of mortal limits. That point is where the two main characters of this film live. They are barely aware of the oncoming sexual transformation puberty is bringing them. Because the film is set in the 1960s, before the sexual revolution impacts the small town where the characters live, even their budding sexual awareness seems innocent.
The film takes its children with deadly seriousness. The adults, on the other hand, are ineffectual and clueless. We see them from the children’s viewpoint. They are the Boy Scout leader (Edward Norton), the policeman (Bruce Willis), the mother with her bullhorn (Frances McDormand), the father (Bill Murray) wracked by his wife’s affair with the policeman. They seem to have no real control over the children, but are committed to protecting them. In some sense the children are hardly aware the adults love and care about them. When the two main characters run away together, a major crisis ensues. The Boy Scout leader musters his troops and sets out to find the lost ones. The parents and policeman are constantly on the hunt. Mostly their antics amount to chaos and confusion. The children have little awareness of how their disappearance has affected the grown-ups.
Anderson has an interest in depressive young women with heavy dark eyeliner. In this film, Suzy (Kara Hayward) is a 12-year-old version of Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) in Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). One hopes Suzy doesn’t grow up to emulate her predecessor.
Anderson relishes stereotypes: the over-zealous scout master, the Boy Scouts in general, the loud and brash mother, the nervous, earnest policeman. Suzy’s beloved Sam (Jared Gilman) is an absolutely realistic embodiment of 12-year-old male nerdiness. Anderson sees human beings as collections of foibles and failures and unsatisfied longings. Neuroses is the human condition, even in the 12-year olds at the center of the film. He seems to pity and to love all his characters.
Moonrise Kingdom is suffused with a perverse magic and discovery. In another kind of film, missing 12-year-olds could spell tragedy. Yet in this one their disappearance prompts almost a rote, tired response by the parents. They are worried, but not excessively. When the children are found, life returns to normal, almost. There are small hints of more disorder, perhaps of darkness, ahead.
This film was charming and entertaining from first scene to last.