Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of two pre-teen lovers on the run: Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), an inhabitant of a small community that lives on the fictional island of New Penzance, and Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), an orphan who attends summer camp on the island. They meet backstage at a production of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde and, after a year of correspondences, decide to run off for 10 days to explore the path of the Chickchaw harvest migration in the island’s woods. Naturally, all hell breaks loose.
Sam and Suzy’s journey to what’s eventually revealed to be the titular inlet ends, at the film’s halfway mark, with their capture. In the world of Wes Anderson, the outdoors is consistently tied to danger and freedom. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, the urbane Mr. Fox, a would-be journalist, is seduced by the wildness of the outdoors and his life as a hunter, despite his saintly wife’s pleas. Sam and Suzy likewise yearn for freedom away from their perceived stations: She seeks solace and escape in books, while he learns basic survival tactics in the Khaki Scouts, led by Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), to bring some sense of control to his perpetual abandonment by foster families.
For Suzy, rebellion is from the muted discord between her lawyer parents, Walt and Laura (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), who don’t know how to deal with her emotional outbursts. That Laura is carrying on an affair with the local policeman, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), certainly isn’t helping Suzy’s opinion of her mother and her parents’ marriage, the detached, melancholic nature of which Anderson excellently sums up over the opening credits. The director sets up both Laura’s relationship with Walt and Captain Sharp as variations (a word pointedly used at the film’s beginning) on the dangers of the wild love that sweeps up Suzy and Sam. He, of course, is the natural outsider, alienated even by his fellow scouts at first, though he finds acceptance through his talent for painting, a visual art that ties him directly to Anderson.
Moonrise Kingdom is a stunningly ambitious step forward for an artist known most prominently for his beautifully stylized interiors. Here, the filmmaker finds visual liberation through the movement of his camera throughout the story’s outdoor settings, while continuing to employ his consistently exquisite framing in the scant indoor settings, evident as early as the opening shots of Suzy’s home. He’s also gained a new respect for visual effects, which are crucial to the film’s fable-like scope as Suzy and Sam break back out of their respective confines and rush off to get married on the eve of a furious hurricane.
The storm is perhaps Anderson’s most audacious set piece to date, hitting just as the young couple leaves Camp Lebanon, where they’re married, and escalating once Suzy and Sam arrive at the same church where they met, now a storm shelter. Anderson exquisitely rhymes the expressiveness of his visual style with the emotional richness of his characters and their experiences: The flood that nearly kills Ward’s superior, Commander Pierce (Harvey Keitel), is a mirror of the one depicted in Britten’s play, while the images depicted in Sam’s paintings are echoed in various scenes and shots. Indeed, Anderson is able to gleefully litter his films with seemingly endless symbolic totems of visual and verbal invention without ever making the film feel labored or predictable.
For Anderson, love, in all its joy, danger, and wildness, is conditional on courage and meant only for those brave enough to test their station. One of the great minor details of the film is how Norton’s scout master replaces a framed picture of Pierce on his desk with one of Becky (Marianna Bassham), a comely switchboard operator, after he saves Pierce from the raging flood. Sam’s fellow Khaki scouts only find kinship with Sam after he and Suzy outmatch them when the scouts try to bring them back home; the Khaki Scout tree fort, precariously built nearly 30 feet in the air, is an immediate visual celebration to youthful ambition, foolery, and bravery. And the dangers of not taking risks and of not opening one’s self up to other people is represented by Tilda Swinton’s character, referred to only as “Social Services,” a figure of seemingly loveless and cowardly bureaucratic authority.
Anderson reutilizes many of his familiar tropes throughout the film, making them feel vital through bold new stylistic choices, potent self-reflexivity, wry filmic references, and dialogue that cuts to the emotional core of the story. Moonrise Kingdom is nostalgic without being precious, forward-looking without being presumptuous; it’s as much about the fantasies of the director’s own childhood as it is about his uncertainty of what happens after that first rush of true love, and how the perils of adulthood can change such an emotion. Taken under wing by Captain Sharp, Sam waves goodbye to his love as the film closes, Britten’s moving “Cuckoo!” coming up over the soundtrack, reminding us of that first moment between the two children, wherein Suzy wore the costume of a raven. The film’s final image, however, speaks more personally to Anderson’s artistry: Sam’s painting of their inlet, fading into the actual inlet, touched by blue light and itself a timeless symbol of children finding the first impulse of adulthood and defying its ultimate condemnation through art and love.
Obviously the product of tremendous care, Moonrise Kingdom looks nearly as excellent on Blu-ray as it did in theaters. The disc’s colors are big and bold, from the blues of Tilda Swinton’s power suit to the crisp white of Bruce Willis’s police uniform and the browns, greens, and yellows of Camp Ivanhoe. By extension, the sense of clarity and detail is equally stunning, and black levels are nice and inky. The audio is near perfect, with the storm sequence coming off as a particular triumph. Dialogue remains loud and clear out front, while a smattering of sound effects, Alexandre Desplat’s wonderful score, and a few random songs fill out the back, mixed and balanced brilliantly.
Only three outrageously short featurettes are accorded to a film that deserved at least a full-length documentary on its locations, set design, and costumes alone. Bill Murray’s set tour is the best of the lot, but there’s nothing here in the way of insight into the production of this masterpiece. DVD and Ultraviolet copies of the film are also included.
Though sorely lacking in extras, the Blu-ray boasts an excellent A/V transfer that shows up the seemingly endless visual and auditory pleasures of Wes Anderson’s latest masterpiece.