A storm is coming, and not just any storm either – a “well-documented” storm that battered the tiny New England island of New Penzance on September 5, 1965. The storm, the island, and all the people on it are fictional, of course, but as in Wes Anderson’s other movies, everything in Moonrise Kingdom feels somehow more real than things in other more “realistic” movies. There is a vibrancy to the emotions captured here that is lacking in most other movies, even if everything about this movie is stylized in that particular Wes Anderson way. His stylization, as always, is in favor of clarity and honesty.
Coming storms are a common narrative device. Storms are unstoppable, uncontrollable “acts of god” that require people to hone in on what’s important, to band together for survival, to do only what’s essential and none of what’s superfluous. Storms bring out who people really are and test their mettle. Storms are perspective, reawakening, resettling. “There’s nothing like a good storm,” a friend recently told me, “to keep you on the straight and narrow.”
The storm in Moonrise Kingdom is eventually literal thunder and lighting havoc from heaven, but for most of the movie, the storm is metaphorical. Moonrise Kingdom is a story of young love and the way it reorganizes the lives of everyone around them. Young Sam met young Suzy backstage during a church production of an opera based on the story of Noah’s Ark, and it was love at first sight. A year of love letters back and forth later, and still young Sam and Suzy abscond to the remote corners of their road-less island to be together. This puts Sam’s scout leader, his fellow scouts, Suzy’s parents, and the island police captain in a tizzy to find the runaways. Hijinks ensue.
Wes Anderson’s movies are frequently about disparate people in close proximity who are nonetheless emotionally distant from one another. Through the havoc of the movie’s narrative, they are brought together into a new kind of humorous and hard won solidarity. Moonrise Kingdom is no exception. The romance of Sam and Suzy churns up all sorts of latent conflicts between the people in their lives, and once the storm passes, a new peace settles over the community.
Moonrise Kingdom is charming in its depiction of the innocence of young love. Sam and Suzy just want to be together because they love each other. There’s nothing selfish or vain about their love. It’s pure. Is it also incomprehensible? Fumbling? Hormonal? Sure, but it is all these things without a hint of unseemliness. One might wonder if Sam and Suzy might be better able to handle their inclinations had their parents better communicated with them the nature of romance, but their authority figures don’t seem to have a good idea how to manage their own adult relationships either. Love is always a bit of a mystery, it seems. It can’t be reckoned. It has to be leapt into, Moonrise Kingdom concedes, if it is to be experienced at all.
My favorite of Anderson’s embellishments concerning Sam and Suzy’s love is that it remains illicit even as it refrains from becoming immoral. In its purity and innocence, Sam and Suzy’s romance seems especially exceptional and somehow forbidden. If it were to become accepted, legalized, canonized, it would somehow lose some of its transformative thunder. By keeping their love outside respectable society, Sam and Suzy challenge society to morph to compliment their love instead of altering their love to fit into society. In doing so, their lives and their community are transformed for the better.
When watching Wes Anderson’s movies, I often wish I lived in one of his cinematic worlds. Sure, his characters are dysfunctional, but so am I, and so are the people in my life. We all need each other too, even if, like the characters who people Anderson’s stories, we sometimes confound and confuse one another. There is a joy in Anderson’s movies, or a magic, if you will, that I do not believe is absent in our own world, but it is a magic that we seem too often to fail to acknowledge and revel in.
There is a moment in Moonrise Kingdom in which Sam and Suzy dance together alone on a beach. Anderson’s characters often dance together with an air of uncaring about what anyone thinks. They dance within the difficulties of their relationships but grateful for the strength those difficulties have borne in them. I want to dance like that with the people I love too.