Colorful Credits? Very Stringy Score? Lots of Little Boys? It Must Be A New Wes Anderson Movie.

Alex: I loved about two thirds of Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s seventh feature-length film. It’s about two 12-year-olds, Sam and Suzy (unkowns Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), who fall in love and run away from their respective families; in Suzy’s case she’s escaping her actual family, while Sam, an orphan, flees his two surrogate families: his foster parents — who, after he disappears, decide that his reckless behavior threatens their other foster children and pronounce that he is “not invited” back to their home — and the boy-scout troupe that has prepared him for survival on the lam but has provided little else but abuse from the other boys. Sam is Piggy-like, complete with too-big glasses, and the other scouts treat him as such.

Anderson’s movies are filled with such families: the biological (“legitimate”) ones are always broken or dysfunctional, while the ad hoc ones (like the whole crew of the vessel in The Life Acquatic) find a way to work. Moonrise Kingdom is like a comedic Romeo and Juliet, and while Anderson couches his societal critique — Sam and Suzy are two of civilization’s discontents — in his signature cuteness, still there is some seriously radical shit going on in this movie. I can’t think of another movie that depicts childhood sexuality in such a straightforward way. (I emphasize that these aren’t teenagers: Suzy has only just stepped into puberty, and Sam isn’t there yet.)

Because they live on an island, they can’t stay hidden for very long. But even after they’re found, and even as their families try to re-orient them to normal life, still they try to find ways to bust out. I find their relationship incredibly touching, and the emotional ripple effects on the grown-ups — there’s an exquisite scene between Frances McDormand and Bill Murray, who play Suzy’s parents, as they lie in their separate beds at night — are genuine and deeply articulated. This kind of emotionality is not always Wes’s M.O.

But the second half of the movie is filled with a lot of Wes’s signature tweeness, and I can never quite get a grip on that stuff. (Yes, Aaron, I said it: I can’t grip Wes Anderson’s tweenis.) We spend a lot of time watching the scout troupe get into all sorts of cartoon-ish shenanigans, and I don’t find any of it funny or subversive. I really checked out of the movie around the time one of our main characters gets struck by lightning then pops up blackened but unharmed, like Wile E. Coyote.

That said, there is definitely something deeper going on with all those 12-year-old boys in their identical uniforms executing orders and wielding weapons: this movie is set in 1965, and six years from now these boys will be drafted. From the start of the film we’re told there’s a huge storm approaching the island, and it operates as a multi-metaphor: for Vietnam, for the miasma of adolescence, for a country about to redefine violence on its own turf.

While the metaphor is there, though, it isn’t deeply explored or elaborated. The movie climaxes with a truly cartoon-ish flee-and-rescue, and in the end everything is pretty much set aright; nobody changes, but they all learn how to live with each other. Anderson always reveals himself as a sentimentalist: he doesn’t really want to tear down the institution of Family — he wants to fix it. So, for me, this is a movie that thrillingly approaches some very dangerous precipices, but ultimately retreats.

Aaron: First, I just want to point out that you have the amazing math skills and temperament of an MFA. At first you love the first two-thirds of the film and then you change it to the first half… Maybe you liked the first five-eighths. Second, and most importantly, I love that you casually mention that “the second half of the movie is filled with a lot of Wes’s signature tweeness” as if that was some sort of valve he was able to adjust. (“The Nazis used a lot of their signature efficiency at Auschwitz.”) I think this is Anderson’s most twee film. All it is is cutesy manicured faux rose-tinted nostalgia. I don’t see any of the depth you find (just in the first half?), and think it’s a really cool and symmetrical looking, but empty movie.

Yes, the boy scouts of the mid-’60s represent the war that’s coming and the guys who are going to die in it — and they also speak to the wars we’re in today and all the young men and women who are killed in muslim places… but so what?! It’s all a bit too polished and too exact for my taste. There’s a clear disconnect between the adult work of the parents, the scouting brass and the establishment (either the government adoption people or the cop) and the dreamworld of the kids (the “moonrise kingdom”), but what’s new about that?

I’m a bit surprised by what you say about childhood sexuality, because it’s really only pre-sexuality (or non-sexuality) as the kids are 12-years old. I guess their just barely post-latent, but all they do is go swimming in their undies and kiss and grope in an awkward, age-appropriate way. There’s no mention of masturbation or any sort of deeper sexuality apparent. There’s certainly no eroticism. I wonder, Alex, if you’re planting your own psychology into these characters. I guess, through synecdoche, they could be playing out an adult sexual adventure… but then what’s the point of it being childhood sexuality? I see the sex here as being average and normal. That kids say they’re “in love” means nothing to me — for the exact reason they’re in by scouts and not in the Marines. This is all a safe test world for what they’re going to see later. Nothing means anything for them. That’s why they’re kids.

You have to describe the social critique you saw because I think I missed it. I saw a very interesting rebuke of humanist cinema. This is not a world that you and I could live in. It’s a doll’s house world (the first shot of the interior of Suzy’s house looks like a doll’s house on purpose… really that’s the core and aesthetic of everything post-Rushmore than Anderson has done). Not only is everything centered, and every single shot balanced in a hyper-rational (read: fascist) but everything is presented in very short settings, mostly interiors, where there is no sense of depth or natural space. As a result everything is shot with normal to wide lenses, giving the film the overall quality of a museum diorama that looks almost real, but cold and lifeless. This is interesting when employed by Chantal Akerman, but generally dull here without the formal polemic she might use. What’s particularly surprising to me is that it’s also a formal rejection of the films you hold dear, Alex. There is no space here for Renoir, Satyajit Ray or Mizoguchi. It’s a hollow space filled with the echos of characters who represent something, but really don’t seem to be at all human. (Damn that’s a poetic sentence!)

What’s more upsetting to me is that there’s all this sound and fury (or, really, no sound and no fury, because those things would be mildly human) but it all represents nothing. What is this movie saying? That youth is a magical time? That kids are wise beyond their years and adults have lost that sense? Bo-ring!

What’s the point of the stylistic and formal assault? I don’t see this as being any sort of political movie outside of the suggested politics of white, middle-class New England in the ’60s. Is this a commentary on our world? Is Anderson trying to move us to a visceral reaction against this very twee world and why would he? It all feels like style over substance for me and like a really elaborate door on an empty room. It might take you a long way to figure out how to open it, but once you do, there’s nothing inside to eat.

Alex: Thanks for checking my arithmetic, Poindexter, but if I have to clarify for your relentlessly literal mind, I shall: The second half of the movie does become more twee and hollow than the first half (absolutely it’s a valve Anderson can open and close, even if he’s doing it unconsciously), but there is still some stuff in it that I find touching (like what our heroes are prepared to do at the climax of the movie — which I won’t describe, lest I spoil, although I think I basically just did). The relationship throughout is very touching. So all of the stuff I liked in the friggin’ movie adds up to “about two-thirds.” Okay? Yeesh.

Meanwhile, thank you for the gentleness with which you suggest I’m a pedophile — I’ll show you where you can plant yer psychology — but did you not catch the scene where they’re standing against each other in their underwear and he apologizes for getting “hard” and she responds, “I like it”? Did you not catch the close-up of a kiss they tell us is going to be “French”? I agree with you that this is all this is perfectly normal, but what amazes me is that the movie actually depicts it. Head-on. It doesn’t hint at it or leave their physical relationship for us to imagine. And their sexuality is part of their rebellion — at home they’d get in trouble for this stuff.

We are certainly in agreement that the visual echoes of war and armies don’t get much louder than echoes, but there’s another socio-political critique going on, and that’s the repressive and oppressive nature of family — ostensibly the basic building block of our society. This is what the kids are rebelling against. It’s the institution the movie critiques, and that gives meaning to the dollhouse of the opening sequence (which I thought was brilliant).

I can’t always explain Anderson’s formal compositions and precise — yes, possibly fascist — mise-en-scene, except that sometimes it all expresses the worldview of his precocious protagonists. (The interiors are oppressive. The details are so carefully placed and observed that you do feel distance from the world — just like Sam and Suzy do.) But, as you say, this is also Anderson’s default mode, and it doesn’t always mean something. So I think the movie is more than just twee and hollow — in fact, I think only about one third of it is just twee and hollow.

Aaron: I fundamentally don’t see this so-called “critique” of the family as being very full-throated or important. I see it more as background for a twee love story. As you wisely pointed out, it’s basically all that Anderson is capable of doing and it’s boring. This isn’t anything different from Tenenbaums or Zissou except the people are younger.

With regard to the kiddie sex again (or non-sex, as I would say), let me first say that if the  climax of the film or the scene is that two kids kiss and fondle one another, then we really have reached new depths of disinterest and banality. I liked that comment about how Sam got a hard-on from kissing Suzy, and think that was probably the most honest thing in the film. But the sun shines on a dog’s ass every once in a while and this doesn’t make Anderson’s portrayal of pre-sexual discomfort any more profound.

The most difficult thing for me with Anderson’s oeuvre is how he seems to be making movies for his oeuvre rather than telling stories. He’s more interested in his total body of work than in the particular film he’s making. They’re all sorta the same and all have exactly the same look. In a superficial, auteur-obsessed culture, this means that many people are fooled into thinking this movie (any of his movies) are great because they’re technically perfect and all take place in the same painless dreamy nonspace.

What I think Anderson always lacks in his non-Rushmore movies is any connection to me, to any human experience. I guess you could argue that he’s not concerned with making humanist movies, but I would say that his films have the same sentimental surfaces that you might find in a Rossellini or Renoir film, but none of the depth. Anderson paints his stories with the same glossy brush he uses on his sets. We see two kids kissing and saying ‘I love you’ to the other, but we don’t really feel that love. It’s all shown to us and we feel and understand nothing emotionally.

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About Aaron & Alex

We're two highly opinionated, movie-going, liberal, cynical, (single) New York Jews who like to bitch about movies.
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