When two young lovers flee their homes in a tiny New England town to start a new life, the island is turned inside out with the search to find them. Written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, and shot in Wes Anderson’s signature quirky style, this 2013 Oscar- and Golden Globe- nominated movie is a sweet story about love, family, and finding a place to belong.
Sam Shakusky is a lonely and misunderstood 12-year-old kid who runs away from his “Khaki Scout” camp. When his scout master (Ed Norton) and the local policeman (Bruce Willis) call to notify Sam’s parents, they discover that Sam is an orphan and has been living in a foster home. Further more, Sam’s foster father takes the opportunity to inform them that he and his wife will not be inviting Sam back to their home. That leaves Sam an orphan on the run with nowhere to go…except that he has a plan.
Suzy Bishop is a lonely and misunderstood kid too. Sure, she has parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and three little brothers, but she seems to spend most of her time on her own. Suzy and Sam have been secret pen pals for a year, and have plotted out their escape. Sam has prepared everything and is very well equipped—he has pinpointed their remote destination on the map, has extensive training and knowledge of camping and wilderness skills, and has packed all the necessary gear (including a canoe). Suzy is prepared too: she runs away from home with a suitcase full of books, a record player, a Françoise Hardy record, and a kitten tucked into a basket. Sam is a perfect gentleman, prepared to take care of Suzy in the wild; he even brings flowers to her when he goes to meet her (which, one may argue, puts him miles ahead of most men in the dating arena these days).
Wes Anderson deftly captures that difficult place between childhood and adulthood. There are times when the two young runaways seem almost like adults, and of course at other times, they seem very much like children. And it’s no wonder the kids want to escape to a new life—the adults in their lives are unhappy, hurting, and deeply dysfunctional. As the drama of the search escalates, so does the irony: as Sam and Suzy figure out how to survive on their own (and manage surprisingly well), the behavior of the adults involved in the search becomes increasingly disordered and childish.
When we get a glimpse into Sam and Suzy’s correspondence, we discover they have that special kinship that exists between outcasts and misfits. The love between them begins to have a profound effect on the people around them, as their proverbial village comes together in order to prevent the lovers from being torn apart.
Enter Social Services, played by Tilda Swinton. I love how completely impersonal her character is—no name, no identity of her own, but completely representative of the State and of the government service for which she works. Social Services is in stark contrast to the (potential) father figures in Sam’s life: Scout Master Ward (Norton) and Captain Sharp (Willis). Eventually, even the adults are fighting for Suzy and Sam, if only to keep Sam away from the dreaded Social Services.
Moonrise Kingdom deals with a fundamental human condition: the need for somewhere to belong. Sam and Suzy don’t fit in where they are, so they set out to create a place to belong. Thankfully, even if we have nowhere to belong here on earth, God has a place for us in His kingdom. Jesus said, “In My Father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3)
Well written and beautifully told, Moonrise Kingdom is a charming and endearing story that will tug at your heartstrings. The strong cast, gorgeous art direction, and quirky costume design all come together in a style that is distinctly Wes Anderson. And it’s worth the price of admission to see Ed Norton and Jason Schwartzman in 1960s scout master uniforms and knee socks.