MOONRISE KINGDOM. Wes Anderson’s magical collage

Moonrise Kingdom is another extraordinary point on Wes Anderson’s cinematic map.

Filip Jalowski

1 October 2023

MOONRISE KINGDOM Wes Anderson's magical collage

After the animated adventure with Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson returns to live-action filmmaking. Everything indicates that the tale of animals dealing with family issues and a wicked farmer has had a refreshing effect on the director. Moonrise Kingdom is a perfect story, told and illustrated in an extraordinary, childishly sensitive manner, bearing the director’s personal signature.

The action of Moonrise Kingdom takes place on a slightly detached from reality, small island called New Penzance, which is said to be located in New England (in reality, the backdrop includes scenes from Rhode Island, although it’s worth mentioning that Penzance is actually a port city in Cornwall, which has a quite Anderson-esque history). It’s the year 1965, and the main characters are twelve-year-old Sam Shakusky and his peer, Suzy Bishop. Sam is an exemplary scout who, however, is not well-liked among the other members of the Ivanhoe camp. His lack of good relations with the boys is compensated by writing letters to Suzy, a girl he met during a performance of Noah’s Flood. Over time, they construct a plan for an escape through their correspondence. When the prearranged hour arrives, the boy and girl disappear from their homes (in Sam’s case, it’s a plaid tent) to meet at a designated spot. Soon, a pursuit is launched to separate and punish the lovebirds. In Sam’s case, the punishment is quite severe as he’s an orphan who could end up in a correctional facility.

Moonrise Kingdom Jared Gilman Kara Hayward

New Penzance Island is an ideal place for exploratory escapades that children embark on, playing explorers and adventurers with imaginary maps in hand. It features forests, vast clearings, caves, hills, and a coastline that shapes itself into charming coves. Moreover, New Penzance has a history that electrifies young minds. Among the trees and rocks run ancient Indian trails that remind of mysterious times known from legends and campfire stories. One of these magical places is the titular Moonrise Kingdom, which Sam and Suzy are heading towards.

Anderson perfectly emphasizes the uniqueness of the place where the action takes place. No frame in his film is accidental. By playing with their composition, the creators achieve extraordinary effects. Characters very often become elements of symmetrical compositions, thanks to which watching a film resembles following a carefully thought-out escape plan of the main characters. Even chaos fits into the framework of a predetermined order – the strong storm and downpour that appear at the end of the film correspond to the story of Noah’s Ark from the beginning of the screening. In this way, Anderson binds the story about Suzy and Sam with a compositional loop that enhances the impression of following a predetermined plan of the performance.

Moonrise Kingdom Edward Norton

Amid formal symmetry, however, an unrestrained relationship between young people flourishes. Sam and Suzy’s love, like everything in Anderson’s works, is a bit eccentric and unreal, but extremely sincere and endearing. A twelve-year-old with a straight face painting nudes of his beloved, formal letters reminiscent of love correspondence from the times when mail was delivered on horseback, dancing on the beach and spending nights together in the bay – such an exaggeration can only be sincere and not too sugary in Anderson’s work.

Moonrise Kingdom is like watching a magical collage of film and children’s theater art. Perhaps that’s why the soundtrack features pieces from scenes hidden behind everyday red curtains (including compositions by Benjamin Britten from the opera Noah’s Flood). In fact, the entire film is focused on weaving children’s stories that appear on various levels. However, the most significant is the story of Sam and Suzy, who decided to escape from the world to be together. It is through their decision that we can get carried away by Moonrise Kingdom, which marks another extraordinary point on Wes Anderson’s cinematic map.

Moonrise Kingdom Jason Schwarzmann

P.S. For her escape from her family home, Suzy took six of her favorite books with her. Each of them is a fictional work created specifically for the film, with a different illustrator responsible for each cover. During the course of Moonrise Kingdom, Suzy reads excerpts from three of these stories. Nevertheless, viewers can learn about all six titles. Instead of a trailer, below is a promotional film in which the film’s narrator introduces us to the worlds of the main character’s favorite stories.