Year of Release: 2012 Directed by Wes Anderson. Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and Tilda Swinton.
The camera slowly pans across the upstairs of a colonial island home. The three youngest Bishop siblings place an LP on a turntable, and a young boy begins to narrate the structure of Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. After the brief introduction, the grand and portentous chords of the Britten cut through the soundtrack.
Disinterested in the activity of her younger brothers is Suzy, (Kara Hayward) the moody oldest child of Walt and Laura Bishop. (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) Instead of socializing, she sits by herself reading or looks over the island with her binoculars.
On the other side of the island outcast Khaki Scout Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) has run away from his scout camp, resulting in a hunt from the other scouts and the island police. A few hours later, Suzy is missing as well.
It is no surprise that the two twelve-year-olds join one another and begin their exploration of the island. Shortly after Suzy’s disappearance, Laura discovers one year’s worth of notes exchanged between her and Sam detailing where they would meet to run away, but not where they were going.
Once Suzy and Sam rendezvous, the movie flashes back to one year earlier and shows their endearing and whimsical romance via pen pal letters. This flashback formed the bulk of the trailer, but one important detail which foreshadows the climax of the film was thankfully not revealed in the trailer. This detail is subtle enough that, while the viewer notices it, he will probably not remember it until it comes into play at the end of the film. At that point, it is amazing how well Anderson structured the film.
There are several important plot elements , which foreshadow later events, that are all openly revealed in early scenes. However, like the foreshadowing when Suzy and Sam meet during the flashback, there is enough subtlety that the viewer does not focus on these plot elements until they return towards the film’s climax. There are two reasons for this. One is the dexterity with which Anderson handles the plot; the other reason is the interest and concern for Suzy and Sam’s story as they try to escape the search party looking for them.
All the characters are believable, engaging, and empathetic. Gilman and Hayward have more chemistry than any other pair of child actors in recent memory. They actually have more chemistry than a good number of older actors as well. Both of the twelve-year-old actors capture the naïveté, longing, and loneliness of their characters. They make the childhood romance believable and touching.
In her two brief scenes, Tilda Swinton is stolid and commanding. In one scene, she marches into a building with an icy demeanor and authority reminiscent of her performance as the White Witch. Yet, she is still believable as a human being devoted to doing her job properly. She and Bruce Willis have a heated and humorous exchange over Sam’s future. Murray and McDormand are amusing and touching as a couple who are deeply concerned about their daughter. Edward Norton is humorous as the overly enthusiastic Khaki Scout leader, but he also deeply cares about the children entrusted to his care, and he has some very poignant scenes with the children.
The opening use of Young Persons’ Guide to the Orchestra is not the only Britten used in the score. Early on in the film a church puts on a production of Noye’s Fludde. There are several songs by Britten as well. Alexandre Desplat composed a whimsical romance theme that complements the Britten very nicely. Young Persons’ Guide to the Orchestra is a very appropriate choice for the film, which is used to open and close the film.
Young Persons’ Guide to the Orchestra is an instructional piece and it is a set of variations. Both of these classifications apply to Moonrise Kingdom as well. Suzy and Sam’s choices are strongly influenced by the flawed examples that they receive from the adults in their lives. All the adults try their hardest to help the troubled children, but none of them know what Sam and Suzy need most. The lives of the authority figures are in disarray, which makes it hard for them to be good role models. Directly before she runs off with Sam, Suzy witnesses her mother meet with another man. Sam has lived in state institutions under uncaring bureaucrats.
Suzy and Sam’s devotion to one another and the tenacity with which they pursue their romance may seem unbelievable. On close examination, it makes perfect sense. Sam is ostracized by his fellow scouts because he is different and socially insecure. Suzy admits that she has no friends and is in constant trouble with her parents and teachers. She wears a thick coat of eye shadow to appear more mature. He goes on wilderness explorations by himself, living off the wild and supporting himself.
The film hints at the children’s strong resolution through the music. When Suzy receives Sam’s letter detailing their plan to run away, the soundtrack plays the percussion variation from Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. When Sam first enters in another humorous scene suggesting that he is trying to act beyond his years, the score is a percussive ballad. The similarity between the underscoring for the young lovers suggests that what they need more than anything else is friendship and support. Both of them provide this friendship and encouragement that no one else will give to them. Suzy and Sam’s adventure to their own moonrise kingdom is wonderful to them, but their lives could be even more wonderful with more meaningful relationships. While percussion alone can be an amazing sound, the full orchestra can be much more glorious. After Britten goes through each section of the orchestra, he brings the entire ensemble back together for a splendid complex fugue to end Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Whether Sam, Suzy, and their families can achieve that triumphant conclusion is kept hidden until the very last moments of the film.
NB: Do not leave until after the credits. There is a delightful scene during the credits that makes connections between art and life via an analysis of the score.
Content Advisory: Sexually suggestive content including references to arousal, underage drinking, discreet references to an affair, brief gore, fleeting profanity and crass language. MPAA rating: PG-13
Suggested Audience: Adults.
Personal Recommendation: A+