Why People Like Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise KingdomThere is a wonderful moment in Moonrise Kingdom. Suzy just revealed a painful secret to Sam and he laughed at her. She stormed away and hid inside the tent. Shortly after, Sam opens the entrance to the tent and says, “I’m sorry… I’m on your side.” And the conflict is over. It’s very mature. Yet those two are outcasts in the world. No one understands them. But more important, they don’t understand the world. They are looking for a way to navigate the world in the same way they attempt to french kiss. And in this way, they are connected to everyone else.

Despite its extreme charm, Moonrise Kingdom is an existential nightmare. It is a narrative demonstrating what Schopenhauer said in The World as Will and Idea, life consists of “momentary gratification, fleeting pleasure conditioned by wants, much and long suffering, constant struggle, bellum omnium [everyone against everyone], everything a hunter and everything hunted, want, need and anxiety, shrieking and howling; and this goes on in saecula saeculorum [forever and ever] or until once again the crust of the planet breaks.” Physical circumstances may change — generally for the better in this film — but no one is anymore happy at the end than at the beginning. They simply make it through today in order to be allowed to make it through tomorrow.

None of this depresses me. This is simply the way I see the world. At least for the time, I have made my peace with the Will. But most people find my outlook on the world to be a decidedly unpleasant one. So why does everyone seem to find this film so pleasant? Is it just that they don’t over-think films like I do? Or is it just that it is about children and we assume that things will work out? After all, we all know how well things work out for our childhood selves! I don’t think it is any of this.

Wes Anderson creates such odd characters that we don’t see them as real people, even as we recognize ourselves in them. The characters are taciturn as they suffer through their lives — just as we all secretly think we are. It doesn’t matter how much we complain about the injustices that plague us, there are more profound wounds that we simply don’t have the language to communicate. But only in an Anderson film do we see characters manifested who share this existential dread that, just as always, today will be just like yesterday.

A good part of Wes Anderson’s work leaves me cold. But as big a part of it is exceptional work. And I think Moonrise Kingdom is the best film of his that I’ve seen — unquestionably a great film. But it is great almost by accident. And this may be why so many of his films don’t really work. They are cut off from external reality, and so only sometimes do they manage to grab hold of an internal truth and sing it. Otherwise, it is just odd characters acting in odd ways.

Having said this about his films working, I want to be clear that they are always well made. He has a distinct visual style that is usually rendered with great care. And that really is the case here. Moonrise Kingdom is an incredibly beautiful film. It could consist of only still images and it would be compelling. What’s more, it is genuinely funny with an extremely well structured story that triumphs over its own cherished absurdity. But what makes it work escapes me. And I think it escapes Anderson too.

So what is the “happy” truth in Moonrise Kingdom? I think it is that we are all lost — muddling through life on a hopeless quest. One moment we are the shame of the troop and the next, we are the hero. But always, we should cut each other some slack. Not that it matters.

2 thoughts on “Why People Like Moonrise Kingdom

  1. I adore this film because it allows me to revisit a time of my life that is long gone. Our early teen years are the only point in our truly formative existence where living in naivete is forgivable. It caters to the whims of young teens who are in love, and I believe that those of us who have experienced the constraints of overbearing parents or circumstance can live vicariously through this pair. To this very day I feel the pull of my first love, and I wish I could have had an adventure comparable to what these two experienced in the film. I don’t believe that it’s supposed to make sense, and it’s not an existential nightmare if you view it through the lens of that first real feeling of non-familial love and familiarity. While the film goes to an extreme to show how children can feel alienated from the world, it also goes to great lengths to show that even young people can have respite with someone else with whom they have a strong emotional bond. I believe that this movie gives us an insight into what life may have felt like it we told our parents to go fly a kite when they told us that our earliest love was likely going nowhere. That’s my interpretation, and I can relate to it. Simply put… that’s why I think that this film is magical. I’m willing to bet that most people who love this film feel similarly.

    • Thank you, Carl! That’s a wonderful way to look at the film. And it goes right along with my belief of film criticism: that it is an extremely personal thing. To you Moonrise Kingdom brings to mind your coming of age. To me, it is (like so much in my life) about the insights of Schopenhauer. Interestingly, both of our perspectives of the film come from the same time in our lives: our mid-teens. Most people would (wrongly) think that what you have to say is positive and what I have to say is negative. But that’s not true at all. I love the futile struggle. I love the lost finding their place in a heartless world. And it reminds me too of my first girlfriend, especially in the last scene. To find one to share this struggle with is the greatest success you can hope for. And I haven’t stopped trying. It’s just what I need in this cruel and complex work is so much more than what Sam currently needs. But I still rejoice in his success. That’s what keeps us all going.

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