Review: Moonrise Kingdom

It was very quiet after the lights came up. I heard an adjective spoken as I left the theatre, “perfect”.
Moonrise Kingdom was written by Roman Coppola and Wes Anderson.

by Jade Fisher

Set on an island off the coast of New England the story follows two ‘deeply troubled’ children who fall in love and decide to runaway together. It’s Anderson’s first period piece, set in the 1960s.

In small doses it features everyone you love doing everything you desire. Edward Norton smokes cigarettes. Frances McDormand yells at children through a bullhorn. Harvey Keiftel gets a piggyback. Bob Balaban speaks to camera. Bill Murray looks forlorn.

“Perfect”. I felt it too. What has Anderson done, or done differently?

Certainly in terms of story Moonrise Kingdom is not as ambitious as his other works, and I think perhaps this is where the answer lies.
I think that the Truth (with a capital T) that Anderson has been seeking creatively, and seemingly in such earnest, is most evident here due to an absence, not an addition.

The story is simple without being reductive. It has the effect of feeling distilled, as though only the essence made it through the process. The story is contained, the island setting is a finite structural and physical limitation – the tale must be resolved within the boundaries set up. These boundaries make the film consumable, even safe. But the fact that the story doesn’t require ‘unpacking’ is not a weakness. It shows the greatest strength in writing. (Second only to the good happy ending.)

Aside from simplicity of story, unity of form must be the co-contributing factor that arrives us at “perfect”. All filmic elements work in unison. Shot on 16mm, and highlighting that familiar Anderson colour palette, visually the piece has a warmth and a childlike quality. The almost geometric nature of the camera movements was a source of joy to me – I imagined the dolly on a rigid mathematical grid. Dolly shots and slow pans give the impression of moving through a dollhouse.

Every choice could be interpreted as representational of childhood. Simple. Wretched. Beautiful.

And hysterically funny.

I hope it plays that way in all theatres. An almost ‘one-two’ set up in the jokes. Visual and spoken alike, the kind of humour that I imagine hits harder upon each subsequent watch.

The writing is brave and anchored. It so obviously and honestly takes from life and memory that magical realism is given these sharp teeth.

There exists a certain chutzpah in the one liners, a notion that we are all confidants now, we don’t pull punches in this family. This bravery extends right to the end, and end which satisfies – which saves. Anderson and Coppola were brave enough to make ‘art house’ redemptive.

For a long time I thought of Anderson’s thematic concerns as insular, repeating themselves as one under psychoanalysis recycles the same topics until they are purged. I wanted to shake the man and say “forgive your Father!” or some such and give him a push. I desired a linear progression in his creative expression. The shape I see he is making now is closer to a concentric circle. Each pass coming closer to the centre. To me it appears as though the man started out towards a single goal, and took the same path every day until it lead him to it.

I read another review that described the film as ‘poetic’. I would agree with this only to a point. Verse forms have a shape and a rhythm, unique to their textuality. If anything I would want to say that perhaps previous Anderson films were ‘poetic’ – free like blank verse, unconcerned with structural balance, serving images and moments intuitively, concerned with one emotion or outcome at a time.

Moonrise Kingdom fulfils more than this. It achieves the hardest and most concentrated form of storytelling, where every element is perfectly balanced, and every moment is an inevitability. I would say Moonrise Kingdom is not ‘poetic’, but perfectly filmic.

Moonrise Kingdom is in limited release from August 30th

-Jade Fisher

I come to screenwriting from a poetry background with a BCA in Creative Writing. I’ve travelled, worked as a cinema projectionist, studied photography, massage therapy, anatomy and am finally learning (& making) my true love, film.

I’m currently interested in developing a linear narrative theory that combines the way story operates in heroic myth with the way it behaves in dreams — where plot structure exists without causal links.

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