Pin It

Merit Badges 

Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom shows that he can still tackle adolescence like no one else

click to enlarge art18135.jpg
The children in Moonrise Kingdom — the new film by eternal child Wes Anderson — are awed by a world that batters them, while the adults have been broken by it. The kids scrap and hold petty grudges, but the adults have let their conflicts fester and leech out, poisoning the ground around them.

A boy named Sam (Jared Gilman) and a girl, Suzy (Kara Hayward), are at the age where they are aware enough of the world to know that it has its problems. Sam is an orphan and unwanted even by his foster parents. Suzy is the child of lawyers. Upper-middle class, probably. Comfortable, but unhappy. Sam acts out with mischief and Suzy with rage and both are labeled “troubled.”

They meet in 1964 and, as pen pals, fall in love over the school year. When Sam returns to Khaki Scout camp the next summer, they run off together to camp out in a world of their own creation because the world of adults they have grown up in is sad and hectic and can’t be trusted.

It’s a first and fateful step to adulthood that has kids begin to create their own realities — governed by the laws and morals that they find lacking in the rest of the world. It’s only fitting that the material Sam and Suzy use to create this first adult reality would include merit badges, Daisy air rifles, science fiction novels and yé-yé pop — those pieces of childhood kids use to play grown up.

Moonrise Kingdom is a diorama to the sort of idealized Northeastern childhood we read about in storybooks and in movies from the mid-’60s — the sort of childhood that Anderson himself, having been born in Houston in 1969, didn’t experience.

Anderson works in American mythos, though, and a Northeastern childhood is both our mid-century ideal and our most potent symbol of the way the American dream collapses under its own weight. It’s perfect for examining the way dreams die and how we try to keep them alive.

Like all Anderson’s films, Moonrise Kingdom is stylized and precious. To say that Anderson’s medium is nostalgia, though, isn’t quite right. Nostalgia is more like the canvas on which he paints. The paintings themselves are full of wonder, glee and the creative power of imagination with contrasting hues of bitterness, malaise and depression.

The way these things — the childlike and the adult — interact creates 100 percent of Anderson’s drama. When his films fail, they fail because these elements are out of proportion.

It’s no coincidence that Anderson’s best and most important film — Rushmore, the film that had critics calling him a visionary and an “auteur” — had these elements perfectly balanced. His worst — Darjeeling Limited, the film that had critics calling him a caricature of himself — was heavily weighted to the malaise and bitterness of an adulthood tainted by the struggles of youth.

That’s still the most compelling criticism of Anderson. The idea that he can only make these kinds of movies in this kind of style.

But why is that a problem? Is there a more fertile ground for storytelling than adolescence? And what more dazzling crop to plant than the intersection of imagination and despair?

Anderson is always meticulous with his crops. That’s never the issue. The trick is harvesting them at the right time, before the sugar of their wonder becomes fermented and bitter with age and spite. Knowing when harvest time comes has always been Anderson’s failing. Anderson picked Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums at exactly the right time, but left Darjeeling Limited and, I’d argue, even The Life Aquatic — to crumble in their own depressive malaise.

Moonrise Kingdom is another beautifully tended fruit that Anderson picked perfectly.


  • Pin It

Latest in Film

  • Enemy No. 1
  • Enemy No. 1

    Oliver Stone's Snowden doesn't break new ground but is still a thrill ride
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • True West
  • True West

    The Magnificent Seven returns to a much-needed territory: Western heroism
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • Scratch That
  • Scratch That

    Bridget Jones's Baby feels almost proudly stuck in another era
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun
Kongos, the Joy Formidable

Kongos, the Joy Formidable @ Knitting Factory

Tue., Sept. 27, 8:30 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks


More by Luke Baumgarten

  • Chasing Whales
  • Chasing Whales

    Let's focus less on courting big companies and focus more on nurturing big ideas
    • Feb 5, 2015
  • Completely Repellent
  • Completely Repellent

    How can we expect people to find constructive uses for space that wasn't built for them?
    • Dec 30, 2014
  • Screw Big Cities
  • Screw Big Cities

    A mid-sized manifesto
    • Dec 3, 2014
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Feminist First

    Through her music, Dolly Parton has always shown women how to stay strong
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • Art of the Deal

    Local indie labels offer artists another marketing option, but not everyone is convinced they're necessary
    • Sep 1, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
Music & Film


Readers also liked…

  • Where Are the Women?
  • Where Are the Women?

    A critic's year-long deep dive into the way movies portray half of humanity
    • May 12, 2016
  • Behind the Music
  • Behind the Music

    The Grammy Awards are about much more than what you see on TV
    • Feb 11, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation