One of the phrases most utilized by adults when pre-teens complain about their lot in life is the following: You don’t know how good you have it. This phrase is both legitimate and idiotic. It is legitimate because too often adulthood devolves into the sort of weary drudgery and pre-occupation with occupation that seems to afflict the majority of adults on New Penzance, the mystical island off the coast of New England in a vibrant 1965 where Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is set. These adults no longer seem to have it that good and probably haven’t for awhile. It is idiotic because, hey, adults seem to forget that when they were 12 year olds they too ceaselessly complained about their lot in life. It’s a right of passage.
This eternal conundrum is addressed in a wondrous scene in the camper home of Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), the man tasked with tracking down runaway boy scout Sam (Jared Gilman), where he serves that same runaway boy scout half a sandwich and a brat. Sharp seems confused why this disobedient boy is in such a hurry to grow up. But then Sharp wonders if Sam might like a sip of his beer and in a whimsically symbolic moment Sam dumps his milk into an ash tray to make room for a few drops of the adult beverage. Adults want to protect children from the rigors of adulthood as long as they can, but there comes a point where resistance is futile.
Every Wes Anderson movie in one way or another is about the rivalry between make-believe and the real world and the opening shot of Moonrise Kingdom illuminates this in the way it focuses on a painting of a modest red home before the camera – in typical Wes-ish style – gracefully pans to the right and then the pans pick up the pace as we realize we are IN the very house represented in the painting. It belongs to the family of our heroine Suzy (Kara Hayward), the rebel with the blue eye shadow and propensity for stealing library books. She concerns her litigating parents Walt and Laura (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) so much they have purchased a book titled Coping With A Very Troubled Child.
Suzy, as we see in flashback, has fallen head-over-heels (in her own stern way) with Sam, a no-nonsense romantic Khaki Scout who has tendered his “resignation” and fled the camp run with an innocent fist by golly willickers Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton). Ward summons Sharp – forever adorned in uniform complete with the requisite high water pants – who is mired in an affair with Laura which seems less about passion than the lack of alternatives on the tiny island. A search party is configured and give chase as Sam and Suzy, armed with a hunting rifle, binoculars and a record player, stay one step ahead, though their destination may be known to the Narrator (Bob Balaban) who turns up now and again to allude to the historic storm set to descend in a few days time and allow for a nifty backdrop to the third act climax.
As the film progresses, it takes neat detours in the story that never dull the momentum and it is revealed – to us and Scout Master Ward – that Sam is an orphan whose foster parents have given up on him. Dreaded Social Services (represented by Tilda Swinton) awaits. (There is a dog here named Snoopy and that reference elicits thoughts of Social Services as a Daisy Hill Puppy Farm For People.) And Suzy, we learn, has a serious mean streak, deeply troubling to the very parents who seem unaware of how their own fingerprints may have more than aided in creating that mean streak.
There is no love as forceful as young love, a truth Shakespeare knew best and which is why Romeo and Juliet will still be performed by the kids of the kids of the kids of your kids and mine. And yet so rarely is young love taken seriously by the old, as evidenced by the scene-stealing Jason Schwartzman as a crooked camp master who assists our star cross’d lovers of Moonrise Kingdom and agrees to marry them so long as they take a real pause to consider just what the union of marriage truly means.
Anderson casts the brief shot of this consideration with Sam and Suzy in the left of the frame and a young camp-goer bouncing on a trampoline in the right. At first, you think “Oh, there goes that quirky Wes again.” But upon reflection it’s the most loaded shot of a film loaded with loaded shots. Carefree innocence ceding to the taking of vows. Sam and Suzy know what it means.
And Sam and Suzy know just how good they have it. They don’t need a reminder. Which is why they just yearn for everyone to leave them alone so they can be together.