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Moonrise Kingdom

Fugue for runaways

Moonrise Kingdom

I have just learned of the death of Andrew Sarris, the film critic who did two great things. He popularized with Americans the notion, beloved by French critics of the 1950s, that a strong director was the critical author—or auteur—of a good film. And he argued that American cinema was just as rich in such figures as was European cinema.

Time is too short to look up what Sarris thought of Wes Anderson, but you can’t imagine him in any other context. Over a half dozen films, from Bottle Rocket and Rushmore through The Darjeeling Limited and Fantastic Mr. Fox, he has staked out his own territory. If you know his work, you don’t need to know what a new film of his is about to decide whether or not you want to see it. He may someday make a film that breaks completely with his past work, though I suspect that if he tries to do so fans will be able to identify his signatures in it anyway.

Moonrise Kingdom is set in 1965 on Penzance, an island off the coast of New England. It doesn’t really exists, but it may as well, so vividly is it imagined and mapped. It is a summer home for families and the site of a scout camp for young boys named Camp Ivanhoe. (These names are not, of course, picked at random out of the phone book.)

The troop’s best scout is also the least happy. Twelve-year-old Sam (Jared Gilman) is first noticed by his absence, having escaped in the night from a Shawshank Redemption-referencing hole in his tent. Putting all of his considerable scout training to use, he makes his way through the woods to a rendezvous with Suzy (Kara Hayward), who is also 12 but, in the manner of children that age, seems older than him. (Perhaps it’s the blue eye shadow.)

Having met the previous summer, Sam and Suzy have spent the year planning this escape from the world of adults. Do they think they can disappear forever? Perhaps. Maybe they only want to get away for long enough.

Their story is intercut with the search effort mounted to find them, run by Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), local cop Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), and Suzy’s unhappily married lawyer parents (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand). All are, as you would expect in an Anderson film, splendidly deadpan, which is not as easy a style to carry out as it may seem. Their lives seem so quietly sad (if sometimes absurdly so, especially in the case of Murray, who is seen shirtless, carrying a bottle of wine and an axe, heading to the forest in search of mischief) that you wonder why the kids are in such a hurry to grow up.

As in all of Andersons’s movies, the setting and story are a fairy tale, leavened with just enough reality to ground it. You can’t take it very seriously, which is why you take it seriously at all. And if the obsessive structuralism (the camera that only moves in straight lines, the excerpts from Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra that provide the score) constantly reminds you of the film’s artifice, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t very real emotional connections to be found here.

NB. Don’t leave before the end credits, especially if you’re a Mike Oldfield fan.

Watch the trailer for Moonrise Kingdom

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