This is another bizarre and original independent films that come our way almost once or twice a year, which is what make Wes Anderson’s vision fit in with the whole trend of independent cinema in his rather colorful yet bleak portrait of humanity in a timeless setting. Just like The Royal Tennenbaums, his portrait of the dysfunctional eccentric family is once again brought out by the locals of New Penzance, particularly the Bishop family and the Khaki Scouts of Camp Ivanhoe. The two main characters, Sam and Suzy, are out of place and emotionally absent with their surroundings, when Sam’s scout master (Edward Norton) is a rather geeky older guy with no strong sense of authority and Suzy’s mom (Frances McDormand) is cheating on her husband (Bill Murray) with the kind Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis).
They are living in an environment that looks ideal with its proper clean clothes, clean-cut hairstyles, and polished settings, resembling something out of a doll house. The wilderness that they venture into to get away from it all resembles a painting with its colorfully green leaves and puffy clouds above them, making it look as though they have escaped into a fairy tale. Whenever Suzy reads to Sam fantastical stories that he seems lost with, they embody an escapism that the two are trying to indulge in that contrasts with the foolish and emotional distance of their classmates and the adults. The play on Noah’s Ark provides a magical symbolism for what’s to come in the costumed animals and the coming of the flood, as though it’s preparing the residents of the whole seaside area for what’s to come for them to fill in the void they live in and correct their shortcomings as social human beings.
It’s even stranger how the adults and children don’t panic or cry about the two runaways in a very sincere way, other than behaving in a superficial reaction to find them in a rush. The boy scouts rarely seem interested in bringing Sam back when they are more interested in dealing with him violently and then suddenly realize that he needs their help in running away with Suzy. Nothing has to explain why they go through this transformation rapidly because that is clearly how Anderson means for his characters to behave; they are not realistic portraits of everyday people, but satirical interpretations. It’s never over-the-top, but smooth how these characters behave, making them stranger and humorous to behold, from Sam’s stunted big-eyed expressions with his glasses, Suzy’s suppressed anger, Mr. Bishop’s loveless relationship to his family, the pompous social worker (Tilda Swinton) making hasty decisions on how to take care of Sam, and the Scout Master appearing helpless about directing his scouts on a straight course without messing up. Bruce Willis makes the most sympathetic character out of all the fumbling and distorted characters who actually wants to take action and smooth the situation with fatherly warmth and compassion to the children and argue with the other adults.
The stranger and humorous it gets in its colorfully bleak take on human nature, it keeps you interested in where the film will go without getting too predictable. A flood could wipe out the whole community, the two kids may run away for good, or the locals will make peace among one another, but it’s hard to take it too seriously when it is a very clear satire on human nature and making very absurd assumptions about how to act about it. Anderson likes to make fun of the problems in the social surroundings of family and community without waving a hard slap in the face of how to deal with the problem, allowing the mind to come at ease with the dry and strange tone of the film. Rather than make harsh judgements on the characters and their social problems, it’s better to sit back and realize that this is just a funny satire on the limitations of human beings and how a compromise can come their way to keep in spirit with the lightheartedness and idealism of the strange picturesque reality.