In 'Moonrise Kingdom', Reality Is Depicted by Escape From Reality

Wes Anderson’s movies do a better job at expressing and exploring what it means to be human than many of the so-called realistic movies that are too often presumed to have more depth.

Moonrise Kingdom

Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Fances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel
Distributor: Criterion
Rated: Pg-13
US DVD release date: 2015-09-22

The Criterion Collection’s release of Moonrise Kingdom (2012) ranks among the most beautiful DVD productions in existence. Its two discs are secured by a slipcase decorated with a enchanting photo spread of the mythical cove the film is named after, and there's also a booklet included that features an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and a interesting selection of reviews written by children viewers of the film.

It's the details, however, such as Khaki scout badges pasted atop the disks, scans of the main character’s artwork, and photos of other oddities from the film’s world, and the ephemera,such as a double-sided map of New Penzance Island, an authentic looking flyer from the featured play, and a postcard from the island, that really lifts this DVD production above the disposable masses and into the heavens where collectables are found.

Throw in its restored 2K digital transfer, its splendid audio commentary with Wes Anderson, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, and Roman Coppola, a selection of animated storyboard sequences, an array of interviews with cast and crew, an insightful making-of documentary, Norton’s home movies from the set, and some never before seen behind-the-scenes, special effects, audition, and test footage, and this Criterion release becomes a must-own product for any cinephile and a sort of holy shrine for Wes Anderson fans.

Some of you may wonder if Anderson’s movies deserve Criterion releases, let alone such an elaborate offering, but you’ll only wonder that if you’re one of his haters who accuse him of making shallow movies about one-dimensional dolls in unrealistic doll houses. There’s no denying that his movies are stylized and that his characters and stories exist in an alternate, whimsical reality where many of the unpleasantries of our real world -- like bad fashion tends, cookie cutter housing developments, and boring people -- don’t exist. But to believe that his movies are shallow is ridiculous.

If you ask me, Anderson’s movies do a better job at expressing and exploring what it means to be human than many of the so-called realistic movies that are too often presumed to have more depth. Most of these ‘realistic’ movies are just as removed from reality as even the most fantastic of Anderson’s films, but their directors and actors don’t believe it. They’re like those English Bulldog owners who think that creature named Winston who sleeps at the foot of their bed is a dog. Even if Winston occasionally barks and someday learns to fetch, he’ll always be an English Bulldog, which, regardless of their charisma, have had the dog in them bred out long, long ago.

Digressions aside, my point is that a movie can never, no matter how hard its creators try, reproduce reality. Just as English Bulldogs have lost the majority of their canine characteristics, movies lose their realism as soon as an actor memorizes a line, a director calls cut, a cinematographer manipulates the light, or an editor rearranges a sequence. The movies we consider realistic today will look like stylized period pieces a few decades from now. What we consider a realistic movie is usually nothing more than a movie made in a particular style that is in vogue at a particular time.

Since so-called realistic movies are just as removed from reality as the most stylized movies, the argument that Anderson’s films are shallow because of his whimsical leanings and irrelevance to realism is, like I said, ridiculous. Style and substance have nothing to do with each other. It doesn’t matter what approach a filmmaker takes with a movie, what matters is the effect the movie has on its viewers. All of Anderson’s work deeply effects this viewer, and probably any viewer who doesn’t have set rules about what a movie should be, and what separates the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Bottle Rocket (1996) depicts the struggles of aimless young adults as they try to give their lives meaning with an honesty that wins you over regardless of whether or not you can relate. Rushmore (1998) explores with a refreshing originality how one’s achievements and ambition is often used to mask one’s pain and deficiencies. With The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), his masterpiece, Anderson tells an incredibly entertaining and insightful story about the struggles, eccentricities, and dysfunctions of a family of high-society geniuses who must learn to embrace the ties that bind them without getting strangled by them.

Then there’s Life Aquatic (2004), a comeback tale of a burned-out, middle-aged oceanic explorer trying to rekindle his passion for the sea, and Darjeeling Limited (2007) which takes a deep look at the bonds of brotherhood. There’s also the stop-motion, hyper-paced children’s animation, Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), which persuasively promotes acceptance and community, and his newest, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), which takes us on a sprawling, emotionally-layered adventure about the potency of memories that is impossible to forget.

All these films, in spite of the lighthearted humor and dreamlike designs that drip from their every frame, dig deep into what it means to be human. But it's Moonrise Kingdom (2012) that, more than any of Anderson’s movies, proves to us how his boundless imagination and stubborn vision can tell highly stylized stories that are as emotionally potent and unblushingly truthful as anything that has ever been put on film.

Taking place on the sparsely populated fictional New England coastal island of New Penzance, Moonrise Kingdom is set during the summer of 1965. Two 12-year-olds, Sam and Suzy, played by first time child actors Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, fall in love via written correspondence and then run away together into the island’s wilderness. While most of the island’s population is made-up of adolescent Khaki scouts, there are a handful of adults who act as flawed authority figures. There’s Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), and Suzy’s lawyer parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), as well as Social Services (Tilda Swinton), Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman), The Narrator (Bob Balaban), and Commander Pierce (Harvey Keitel). It's these authority figures who try to find Sam and Suzy before an incoming hurricane arrives to wreak havoc on the island.

In many ways, Moonrise Kingdom is a children’s adventure story in the tradition of Mark Twain, but while Twain uses the characters of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to look at everything from race to religion, Anderson uses the characters of Sam and Suzy to look almost exclusively at what it means to be a child. To do this, he contrasts their optimism and sense of imagination with the depressing, hopeless reality of the adults in their lives. Suzy’s parents are in a loveless marriage, Captain Sharp is a lonely bachelor, and Master Ward uses his status as a Khaki scout leader to escape from his reality as a math teacher.

Although both Sam and Suzy are peerless outcasts, their attempted escape represents their hope in a future of their own making. It's a future that they, even it's only for a short time, are able to make a reality once they reach their destination: the New Penzance island cove they call Moonrise Kingdom.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.