Last week, as we were trying to emotionally prepare for The Iconoclast “graduating” fifth grade and growing up and going off to sleep-away summer camp for the first time, the family all went to see Moonrise Kingdom, a bittersweet little bonbon of a movie that is sort of about growing up and going off to sleep-away summer camp. Ouch, and oh.
You may know and love Wes Anderson‘s signature directorial style, from Fantastic Mr Fox and The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore: dysfunctional families and wacky communities masquerading as realistic; characters speaking in deadpan in even the most harrowing situations; exquisitely precise settings and props and costumes; and a deep moral core. Often the movies make you smile wryly as much as laugh out loud. So, too, Moonrise Kingdom.
The story is about two kids, twelve-year-old Sam and Suzy, but I think it’s an open question whether it is much of a “kids movie.” (Of course, The Exorcist is about a twelve-year-old and that’s not a kids movie, either). On a fictional Atlantic coastal island, Sam and Suzy fall in love and have emotional and geographical and martial and meteorological adventures. Sam decamps from his Boy Scout-type wilderness skills camp and Suzy shimmies away from her dreary family, and they elope and set off across the island to create a magical home of their own in a little cove by the sea.
Sam and Suzy are both kids who don’t get along with other kids, but find purpose and passion in each other. Various interlopers intrude: the other campers track them, the local cop brings them back, Suzy’s parents seize her, and Sam is to be sent off to an orphanage. Weirdly, what happens to them feels like it matters hugely. As if they were adults. Their affair imagines some of the awkwardness of pre-adolescent crushes: Suzy comments that her breasts will get bigger, Sam apologizes that he may wet the bed. They may not be sure what to do with their bodies, but they have no doubts about their hearts and minds. They’re extravagantly in love, and nothing can keep them apart. It’s like Romeo and Juliet, Jr.
Grown-ups steeped in fictional grand passions and our own love stories, and having survived our own youth, can fit all this into some recognizable framework. The Minor Critics, very pre-pre-adolescent, have absorbed their fair share of fictional love stories. The little girl, after all, nicknamed herself The Romantic. She is coincidentally reading Romeo and Juliet this week. But they haven’t come close to living any romances yet. They apparently enjoyed themselves thoroughly at Moonrise Kingdom, but I wonder if they identified at all with those extra-young lovers onscreen. Do either of them imagine they could find some other kid who will complete them? Is it a kid’s fantasy to find someone like that, or just a grown-up’s?
The Critical discussion afterwards veered quickly away from love. The kids were mainly excited about aspects of the movie’s pleasant whimsy, like Suzy’s obsession with looking at things through binoculars, and the scout troop’s elaborate camp rituals, and what it meant when the neighboring scoutmaster offers to get Sam a job on a shrimp boat so he can support Suzy. The Iconoclast briefly considered whether shrimping might be a feasible way to supplement his inadequate allowance, until we explained how incompatible that would be with school and piano practice and reality. As would falling in love and eloping. Better to stay in summer camp, for now.