“In order to show you how a big symphony orchestra is put together, Benjamin Britten has written a big piece of music, which is made up of smaller pieces that show you all the separate parts of the orchestra.” The rectilinear camera pan reveals, in solely earth toned colors, three young boys surrounding the portable 45 record player that plays Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, a work specifically made for the instruction of children in the art of classical music. We then meet their sister, Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), atop a lighthouse with binoculars in pitch perfect framing, spatially disassociated from her other family members. “Now, Mr. Britten lets you hear the four different families of the orchestra playing the same Purcell theme in different ways.” The members of the Bishop family are then presented with each disparate part of the orchestra, the deliberate choice of music immediately stratifying the members of the family from one another. The Bishops are dysfunctional, each member as diverse as each of the variations of Britten’s piece as it progresses throughout the scene. To say the least, the Bishop parents, both lawyers, address one other as ‘Counselor,’ and Suzy has recently discovered a book entitled Coping With the Very Troubled Child on top of the refrigerator.
The opening scene of Moonrise Kingdom is completely drenched in Wes Anderson’s design-fetish style, as one would only expect of his seventh film. He has created yet another fantastical, visually aesthetic fairy tale world he can suck the viewer into, this one being an isolated, New England island (if Bill Murray’s patterned pants weren’t enough indication) in 1965. The Bishop house is a dollhouse, with each member a beautifully painted doll, Suzy being the misfit toy of the bunch. She is soon approached by orphaned Sam (Jared Gilman), a skilled but unpopular Khaki Scout at a local production of yet another Britten work, Noye’s Fludde (Noah’s Flood). Anderson certainly premeditated this musical reference, foreshadowing imminent inclement weather approaching the island.
The pair soon makes plans, through touch-bump paper love letters, to run away together into the nautical paradise of New Penzance. When they are found to be missing, Suzy’s parents Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand) join police Captain Sharp and Scout Master Ward (Anderson family newcomers Bruce Willis and Edward Norton, respectively) to search for them before the oncoming storm arrives. Continuing the musical motif, the adults’ search is strategically accompanied by a piece based on themes composed during Britten’s childhood — the “Playful Pizzicato” from his Simple Symphony — further radiating the youthfulness of the film. Britten’s works continue to be interwoven amidst Alexandre Desplat’s French New Wave-infused score and various Hank Williams songs.
It is almost as if loyal Wes Anderson fans are finally being given the full story of Richie and Margot’s childhood runaway to the museum in The Royal Tenenbaums. Both Suzy and Sam appear wise beyond their years, yet there are deliberate instances in which we realize that they are, ultimately, typically awkward twelve-year-old outcasts who are falling in love for the first time. However, this is what makes the couple one of the most endearing young romances film has seen in years; they repudiate their own naivety. But still, Suzy carries around illustrated fantasy books with titles like Shelly and the Secret Universe, while Sam refuses to take off his coonskin cap. Suzy’s ears aren’t even pierced, requiring a bloody endeavor for her to be able to wear Sam’s gift of makeshift fishhook earrings.
There is something comfortable, yet more evolved about this Anderson film; he is delving more deeply into the psychological presentation of the preteens he frequently presents in only one dimension, with the exception of Rushmore. Anderson may believe that the prominent use of adults provides more cinematic truth; however, the innocence of the children in this film just as masterfully reveals candid presentations of ourselves, regardless of age. Suzy and Sam’s untarnished love is ironically juxtaposed to the failing adult relationships that surround them. The result of this exploration also gives a different color to Anderson's deadpan humor, only made possible through the juvenile behavior of these pseudo-adults. Moonrise Kingdom has moments of straightforward, laugh out loud humor. Upon running away, Sam pulls a Shawshank and covers the escape hole of his tent with a poster, to which Edward Norton reacts, “Jiminy Cricket, he flew the coop!” The Khaki Scouts, one of which dons an eye patch, then go off in pursuit of Sam with weapons as farcical as a bow and arrow to a large machete.
The bookending use of Young Person’s Guide, which introduces the individual instruments of an orchestra and then joins them in a fugue, is adept in that it underlines the construction and framework of this superficially simple narrative (co-written by Roman Coppola). While the film ends happily enough, the variations return, reminding us that the conclusion is still fixed to the film’s beginning, just as Anderson returns to the house interior of the opening shot at its close. The variations suggest that, while everything has come together in the end, nothing can be quite the same again. Finally, the consummate orchestra plays the theme after its separate pieces are introduced, complementing the reunion of this conflicted family. But this time, Suzy is in the same room as her brothers while listening to the record, and Sam sits across from her, painting a portrait of the haven they discovered on their coming of age adventure. This perfectly tied ending is what makes this fastidiously structured film one of Anderson’s best since Tenenbaums and perhaps one of the most notable of the year.