True. Good point, Greg.
Moonrise makes this even more explicit than his other films through the use of the Cuckoo Song at the end of the film suggesting the impossibility of the idyll being sustained as children turn to adults.The illusion of there being an escape is what is lost as the children become the adults as the issues haunting all of them still remain.
Certainly agree with Greg and Matt that there is definitely a darker subcurrent in this film and other films by Anderson. It doesn’t obviate the fun aspect, but does lend a more pessimistic reading to the events. The kids are seen as flawed, too, but not as damaged as the adults. However, Anderson doesn’t give us an apparent way out when these kids become adults and repeat all the same mistakes/patterns as adults. Childhood, then, is a short idyll – troubling as this idyll is – before the responsibilities of adulthood submerge the inner child in us.
Did anyone see the quickly composed ‘happy ending’ as a bit of an ironic twist – ie, a bit unbelievable? Even Swinton’s mean character bends to the reconciliation at the end. A bit too pat, but maybe just another layer of reference to older film conventions by Anderson. I think there are several subtle references to earlier films in this, but I just don’t seem to be able to pick them out.
Btw – as I mentioned earlier, Anderson uses the term "over and out’ a few times when the characters are communicating by radio. This is a cliche from many earlier films, as the correct term when ending a conversation by ham radio is just “out”. But maybe Anderson doesn’t know this, either? (One of the few things I picked up when I was in the Army – taking a course in radio communication).
One can see the actions of Sam and Suzy paralleling that of Captain Sharp and Laura Bishop even as they are shown to be intent on not doing so. Or to put it another way, the film can be seen as almost suggesting the actions of Sam and Suzy are a projection of the two adults as Suzy is linked to her mother and Sam to the Captain, even going so far as having Sam sneak out of the house into Sam’s waiting car in the end which continues the dynamic of the illicit relationship established between Laura and him.
It is also worth noting, i think, that the film is set in the past which puts it into a different sort of relationship with the audience as it builds a feeling of yearning for times past in us as well. Made all the more potent by it being just before the great turmoil of the latter half of the sixties. This might also be seen as suggesting a further potential split between Sam and Suzy as they age as Sam has settled with the authority figure, captain Sharp, and Suzy seems to be more apt to continue to roam. Her being cast as the raven in the Noah story is further confirmation of this. (There is more that might be suggested by the story of Noah as well depending on how much one wants to try to read parallels between Moonrise and Noah. Certainly it can be suggested that Murray’s character’s drunkenness and “nakedness” could have some greater suggestive value for example, but that is getting ahead of the more evident purposes of the content.)
Having a narrator who speaks of the events before they happen also adds to the sense of fatedness and confinement in a way as the characters will enact what is already “known” to an extent.
Regarding Oxy’s statement about the ending, yes, it is too “pat” in a way. It violates something of a “rule” of storytelling I’ve heard Updike quote, which is that coincidence can be used to establish problems for the characters but coincidence should not be used to resolve problems. Doing so, which is something like what happens here suggest a sort of artificiality and emphasizes the fated or ordained nature of the tale.
One comparison which I want to throw out there is between Moonrise Kingdom and Tree of Life, as odd as that initially might seem to the Malick fanboys. Both films are reliant on a sense of nostalgia established in the films to bring sense to their conclusions. In Tree, the nostalgia is a bridge to resolution as it is the necessary link to the epiphanic end, whereas in Moonrise nostalgia is shown more as an implacable yearning which is known to be ultimately unsupportable but no less powerful for that.
Oh, and a couple of other things while I’m thinking about it.
One is that it isn’t just the Cuckoo song at the end of the film which establishes the “impossibility” of sustaining the idyll. The first song, Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra sets up the entirety of the film as it plays a theme, a really beautiful theme, by the “older” composer Purcell which Britten then works variations on, taking the listener through each section of the orchestra as they sound their own interpretation of it before coming back together and being folded into the older theme. This suggests the individual actions will “sound” but, eventually, to a pattern already arranged even as there are now some variations on it. The pull is back to the already established in a sense. This might be seen as allowing for the possibility of change, as the variations do alter, but it also suggests limits.
Secondly….damn it, I lost track of what the other thing was while writing, I’ll have to think about it some more…
Edit: Ah, now I remember. I was going to say, and am now saying, that if one wants to see a similarly charming tale that is in many ways very close to Moonrise but one where the ironic underpinnings do not create the sort of tension that seem implicit here, A Little Romance would be worth watching. It, if memory serves, creates a different sort of feeling which might be worth comparing to Moonrise as the two films are so alike in many surface ways. A Little Romance also is about two kids who escape from their parents to establish a sort of chaste romantic bond aided by an old romantic played by Lawrence Olivier. It too has an end that, necessarily, doesn’t allow for the sort of uniting which one would see in a romantic comedy about adults. (The stories being about children in that way is significant because the “reality” of their age precludes certain events from being possible to transpire.) But the tone of A Little Romance is decidedly more hopeful than Moonrise suggesting a different relationship to the themes at hand and provoking a different emotional response from the audience regarding romance, childhood dreams, and fate.
Greg, there is also a ‘dark undercurrent’ to a lot of old Disney films too, what is your point? That does not relieve Anderson of the charge of being superficial and smug.
A charge in itself is of little interest to me. If people don’t like Anderson, that’s their deal. If they want to make arguments against his films that go beyond they don’t like the tone I’m all ears. The point I’m making isn’t merely that there is dark undercurrents, but that Moonrise, and some of Anderson’s other films make good use of the tension between the surface and the underlying emotions to create something I admire in the way the films are made and in what they express. Given the usual one or two sentence reviews around here I guess I can see someone thinking that sentence in and of itself is supposed to stand alone, but it was intended as a part of a dialogue which is going a little further than that in laying out the reasons for my/our appreciation.
“One can see the actions of Sam and Suzy paralleling that of Captain Sharp and Laura Bishop even as they are shown to be intent on not doing so.”
Yeah, I was actually intended to come back and make the same point.
Which is underscored, I think, by the house being named “Summer’s End”
Yeah, and a point of clarification, when I said the relationship of Sam and Suzy could be seen as a projection, it would have been perhaps clearer if I said extension as the organizing consciousness of the film seems clearly more related to Suzy’s perceptions than the other characters. Sam, in that light, “answers” her wishes as they grow out of her understanding of things as measured by her family relationship and her reading and music interests.
Right, and something else found interesting was the way that the soundtrack sort of answers the Britten/ Bernstein music with the Hank Williams songs.
I agree with Greg, particularly about the music. I actually posted a piece to my blog that covers a lot of this territory, and I’d love to know what guys think if you have the time.
Yes, they provide a sort of counterpoint to each other, as they would almost have to do given how unexpected a combination of music the film uses. Britten, Schubert,. Hank Williams and Francoise Hardy? Worked for me.
How did I not know you had a blog, Duncan? Favorited. I’ll be pouring over it soon.
Nice write up Duncan. Not much I can disagree with there at all. It would be nice to get beyond the need for constant justification or quasi-defensiveness when it comes to appreciating Anderson, but as you say the palpable dislike so many seem to have for the tone of his films is hard to overcome. I’m just a little surprised by the apparent refusal to at least give the man his due for the meticulous construction of his films, instead somehow considering his formal awareness to be something of a fault in its own right.
Thank you, House and Greg! I agree—even if one doesn’t like Wes Anderson, you have to admit the level of care he puts into his work. Few American directors today make movies that so reward repeat viewings.
Thanks for sharing that, Duncan.
“Regarding Oxy’s statement about the ending, yes, it is too “pat” in a way. It violates something of a “rule” of storytelling I’ve heard Updike quote, which is that coincidence can be used to establish problems for the characters but coincidence should not be used to resolve problems. Doing so, which is something like what happens here suggest a sort of artificiality and emphasizes the fated or ordained nature of the tale.”
The ending does indeed have a preordained or “lucky” feeling to it, but even that is set up, in a sense, by lightning literally striking twice, first Sam along in the lightning field and, then, later the church steeple.
i think this was Anderson’s most accomplished and mature work today, though he did have the quirkiness cranked up to 11, it was the best cast he’s had since Zissou. I’m not the biggest Anderson fan, but this one has me looking forward to his next project.
Regarding the cast, I have to single out how excellent Frances McDormand is in her supporting role. What she can do with relatively little to work with is pretty amazing.
Interesting, I thought that, for the dramatic climax of the film, Anderson dressed Laura in very similar color to that which he dressed Suzy early in the film as she was running away with Sam:
Yeah, as I was kinda trying to get at before in a roundabout way, the movie takes some pains to link Suzy to her mother and Sam to Captain Sharp in a way that hints at the story being available to be understood as Suzy’s attempt to come to terms with her mother’s behavior, and/or possibly even as a sort of nested version of the mother’s own desires acted out by Suzy and Sam. Whatever the case, the film explicitly ties the story to Suzy’s perceptual state by having her acknowledge the audience/camera at the beginning and the end of the film. That combined with the similarity of the events at the beginning and end suggests the story as a whole could be contained within the single afternoon in Suzy’s own imagination. Or, as I mentioned before, Sam getting into the waiting police car can be seen as a sort of double for the actions of Captain Sharp and the mother and the film could be read as a sort of extension of that relationship. This could give resonance to “moonrise kingdom” being wiped off the map as the idyll, the escape from time, is impossible. (I think going into more about the way time is handled in the film would be interesting as well. I was particularly taken by Balaban’s character being both out of time and in it simultaneously and how all of the film relates to the audience given it is set in the past but told in the present.)
I don’t mean one has to literally see the film as holding to being precisely one or the other of those options or to any more limiting structure necessarily, but Anderson’s films do tend to suggest a way of looking at the use of affection and arts within the movies as a way of processing the emotional turmoil of the central character(s).
In this his films are different in the way they use that so-called darker undercurrent than something like Disney films. In those kinds of films, the world of the main characters is generally shown as idyllic in itself, or at least it would be if it weren’t for some outside evil force working against the “natural” state of affairs and attempting to turn that goodness into something other for their own selfish ends. At the end of those kids of films, evil is defeated and light restored to the world. Anderson’s films don’t have that sort of trajectory. The problems in his films tend to be more about the characters not being able to adapt to the world or where their own emotions are causing the problems. His films don’t end with triumph, but with a sort of reconciliation to the way things are. This reconciliation is usually only tentative though, it isn’t a whole scale acceptance or total integration of character into world, it is more uneasy than that, more of a truce and a shift in viewpoint than a full concession. In that, one can even link the directionality of the characters or the way the films suggest the characters fit into their worlds with the vastly different films of someone like Cassavettes.
I think it would be useful, particularly in the light of there being such distaste for Anderson in some quarters and the larger tendency to let feelings about tone drive so much of the conversation around certain filmmakers, Haneke, Tarantino, Von Trier, Spielberg, and at times directors like Ford and Ozu as well, to give some more attention to the subject and to try and come to some more meaningful ways to think about how things like tone and affect effect “meaning” or the perception of the “worth” of the films.
“Anderson’s films do tend to suggest a way of looking at the use of affection and arts within the movies as a way of processing the emotional turmoil of the central character(s).”
Right, and actually Anderson’s films (at least since The Royal Tenenbaums) are structured as sort of mock versions of various media—Tenenbaums a novel, Life Aqautic the Cousteau-style nature documentary, Darjeeling Limited an amalgam of Ray, Renoir, and Malle films set in India, Fantastic Mr. Fox (obviously) a children’s book, and now Moonrise Kingdom a Britten opera.
thanks u guys for making such a detailed thread on this which i’ll read as soon as i get to see the damn film which didn’t play anywhere near me :( when is it coming on dvd?? edit: gah! not until sept >:(
Well, it isn’t too detailed yet, but hopefully we’ll get there since Anderson is something of a challenge to a number of ideas regarding critical evaluation or the whole “taste vs judgement” issue in particular.
I don’t know if I would exactly say Moonrise is structured like a Britten opera as much as it is sort of filtered through the kinds of books Suzy likes, but that isn’t to suggest that Britten doesn’t provide some support to that. Britten does seem to be a good match for Anderson given Britten’s fascination with oddballs or outsiders to communities as well as having some of the same sorts of generational clashes of view in some of his best known operas. While Albert Herring and possibly Midsummer Night’s Dreammight be said to have at least some tonal similarities, the other major Britten operas deal with the subject in a more dramatic way, but commonalities can still be found. Turn of the Screw, Peter Grimes most directly perhaps but Death in Venice, Billy Budd, and Owen Wingrave also share some interest in the sorts of perceptual or actual clashes between old and young/innocence and experience which seems almost a constant in Anderson’s films.
Just want to thank those posting screencaps for the film. Good to actually stop at a specific scene and look at all the little additions, especially for a film by Anderson. Really loved this film.
“I don’t know if I would exactly say Moonrise is structured like a Britten opera as much as it is sort of filtered through the kinds of books Suzy likes”
Sure, the books are the lens though which Suzy sees the world, but Britten’s work quoted in the film isn’t just decorative. Structurally the film is a sort of pastiche of Britten—“A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” (with the various characters and plot elements “played” by themselves or smaller groups to demonstrate the various tone colours and capacities of each, then eventually “played together”), Noye’s Fludde, which actually ends up foreshadowing the climax of the film, as well as some others in a more incidental way (“On the Ground, Sleep Sound” from Midsummer Night’s Dream) . . . so, while yes, the film isn’t structured like an opera per se, Britten’s work acts as a sort of structural trope for the film.
Yeah, as fascinating of a storyteller as he is, I don’t see how one could talk about Anderson’s work and not spend a great deal of time on the visual aspects in detail. There isn’t another director who does quite what he does in this regard. I posted this image already, but, for example, here Balaban’s Narrator is clearly intended to visually rhyme with the lighthouse in the frame with him:
(Oh, and at some point I want to return and talk about the ending more, as I think the endings of Anderson’s films tend to be one of the more interesting features of his work. Somewhere around here we talked at great length about the ending of The Royal Tenenbaums)
It’s the BEST movie of the year so far
Yeah, I don’t have any problem with that as we kinda of touched on it earlier, I just wanted to make clear that Anderson isn’t duplicating a form in any of the films per se, but usually using several different sorts of cultural products, art forms, games, what have you, to influence the way he puts together the narratives. I know you’ve already said some things along those lines elsewhere, I just didn’t want anyone to get the idea that the film is too much “like” an opera or that imitation of whatever kind is the goal. It’s more about the way we use these kinds of cultural products to make sense of our own predicaments. Or, to put it another way, where the essence of Haneke might be thought of as showing us that the narratives we believe in are lies, Anderson is stressing there foundational importance to ourlives, or saying the narratives we believe in are necessary lies in a way.
As I listened to the end credits of Moonrise, where they “demonstrate the orchestration of Mr. Desplat’s musical suite”, I couldn’t help but notice the felicity of the last instrument introduced, and basically the last thing mentioned in the film, being the triangle which brought to mind how central “triangles” are to Anderson’s films. His films seem to be shaped around unusual interpersonal triangles, often based around some idea of generational strains where the shape not only suggests the conflict between the characters directly, but a more abstract set of ideas around where one comes from, who one is, and where one is or wants to go, an interest in being and becoming in other words which is played out through the different places in life of the characters.
Here’s the piece if you didn’t catch which one I was referring to;
Regarding the visuals, yes, having stills is great. I wish I had access to a dvd so I could make some myself. I would also add that the rhythm of his films or the movement in them is generally equally well handled and worth attending to. So it would be even better to have some way to look at those aspects as well.
To chime in with Ruby and others, this thread has been a pleasure to read through. As someone who enjoys and appreciates Anderson’s work, it’s gratifying to see lucid analysis on what may be my favorite film of his.
I’ve only seen Moonrise Kingdom once (and that was about a month ago) so I don’t really feel confident to contribute much now (especially as it pertains to some of the more detailed examinations of Anderson’s mise-en-scene), but I will say that the movie struck me a little off guard. We don’t have a foster kid with us right now, but we were in the middle of a very difficult placement, and it seemed to me that Anderson, through all the lovely artifice, nailed the emotional tenor of “troubled youth” dead on. Watching Suzy and Sam relate to each other on the basis of shared alienation was, I think, a truthful expression of what I’ve seen in the brief time I’ve worked in foster care. The kids, smart or dumb, have no idea what they’re doing, but at the same time there’s nothing else for them to do.
“I just didn’t want anyone to get the idea that the film is too much “like” an opera or that imitation of whatever kind is the goal.”
Yeah, completely agree—bad phrasing on my part . . . I’m on vaca this week and therefore and posting mostly from mobile devices at odd moments, so I’m afraid my recent posts have suffered in terms of coherency.
Re: visuals, yeah, it would be great to have a reliable way to post clips from the film so that it would possible to capture the temporal aspects of films in addition to what you can do with individual frames and the like.
Regarding the troubled youth issue, I would suggest that part of the reason why Anderson’s films are so “arch” or “whimsical” or “droll” or what have you is that by having the characters all speak in roughly similar ways he is removing from consideration certain expressive or perceptual biases which places the characters on a more level plane. Doing this helps shift the interest from more literal interpretations or concerns over actions and events and places the focus more clearly on each character’s own perceptual field. The emotions that are of primary interest are the ones that arise from this sort of condition. Children think of themselves as adults and the adults still hold some central vision of themselves as young, which causes both the wish they were the other at times, children desiring to be older and adults younger in other words. The suggestion is that there are some inherent emotional conflicts over who we are that remain constant in form, even while they might change in expression. By eliminating the expressive distance between the characters, Anderson is able to have them speak more directly to those concerns and have the characters and the audience understand those concerns as being more evenly balanced.
This isn’t to say that the power relationships are thereby also leveled. Parents remain parents and so on, but the surface artifice allows for expectations over social norms to be removed giving the characters more freedom of action and rendering the logic of the unfolding events subsidiary to the emotional needs behind them. In this way, Anderson often elides significant action, only showing the results of the action or he will undercut more normative expectations of cause and effect to simply show obstacles being overcome through “miraculous” means. The surface of the film then can be seen as being responsive to the characters inner lives, where the worlds of the films are shaped to the characters and how they see it as much as they are caught within it. This provides Anderson the opportunity to play with the form of the film and creates a more personal connection with audience members that do respond to his films I think. By changing the relationship to the “real”, the films place the sympathetic viewer in a more insular space where the connection to the films isn’t based as much on outward resemblance to the rules of “our world” but to the underlying emotional state. This sort of insularity can be criticized from some angles, but it does allow for things which aren’t as possible in other films, films which can be every bit as controlled or determined as an Anderson film, but which aren’t as noted for it due to their signalling “realness” through convention or by “hiding” the artifice and the resultant emotional response through their more “serious” tone.
(I’m not entirely happy with some of the way I expressed those ideas and might want to revise them in the future, but since this is a dialogue where the ideas are being developed as we go I thought I’d throw this out in its somewhat unrefined state as it can be improved on later. Just take it as initial thoughts on the matter.)
I can’t wait to see this. I lived in ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ for 20 years.