Moonrise Kingdom and Life

(Nick Schcolnik)– Spoiler Alert!!

The first time I saw Moonrise Kingdom was in late May. I left the theater not quite sure what I had seen, not quite sure how a smile continued to quietly remain impressed upon my lips. It was so genuine, so honest. Everything about the film screamed, “this is the way life should be”; it cut through the phoniness latent in the everyday—hacked away at the pretentiousness that lay inherent in the routine. The best way I could describe Moonrise Kingdom was “real.”

I’m not generally one who feels particularly opinionated about movies, but Moonrise Kingdom had struck a chord. I wasn’t sure which chord it had aroused, but I happily declared to friends that Moonrise Kingdom was one of my favorite movies of all-time—a bold statement, I know. When asked to clarify my thoughts, I kept coming back to the same thought: there was just something about the film that hit a nerve, a part of the movie that resonated with something deep inside me.

I thought about writing a blog about why I loved Moonrise Kingdom after the first time I saw it, but figured that “honest and real” might not do the trick. It wasn’t until I talked with a friend who told me that she thought the movie was, “cliché, too perfect, and too sweet,” that I realized I had to make my case for the marvelous film that I found Moonrise Kingdom to be.

So this week I went back to the theater with the goal of identifying precisely what about the movie was powerful; I need to defend Moonrise Kingdom. And so after my second viewing of the film, I think I’ve found it: throughout the entire movie, the children act like adults, while the adults act like children. Minute, perhaps, except for that the director, Wes Anderson, depicts the children as the people upon whom one ought to model his/her behavior, while the adults are dismal and morose characters, depressed with their lives and looking for the path to happiness. In all senses of “grown-up,” the children are more wise, thoughtful, and driven than the adults.

Following this line of thought, then, the only characters to show any courage are Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop (although Scout Master Ward (an adult who acts like a kid) does risk his life to save Commander Pierce from the fire). Additionally, the only characters Anderson represents as thinking deeply about ethical responsibility are the children who make up Khaki Scout unit 55 (when they decide to help Sam and Suzy reunite after realizing that they had been bad friends/scouts to him). Meanwhile, Suzy’s mother is known to be cheating on her husband with the local policeman (who is referred to as unintelligent numerous time), and her husband spend his time being unhappy with his life (“I’m going outside to find a tree to chop down”).

One particular scene stands out in this role reversal. After finding out that his daughter was missing and nowhere to be found, Walt Bishop (Suzy’s father) angrily throws his shoe at Scout Master Ward. Bishop is furious that Ward is “unable to take care of his troop,” and displays his anger by violently hurtling the only object he can find at the man he has decided is responsible for his daughter’s fate. Not only is Bishop way off the mark with his accusation, but he expresses his frustration the way we might envision a young child expressed it. Only furthering the juxtaposition, the camera cuts to an image of Ward’s khaki troop watching the scene play out—watching adults act like children.

So what’s so powerful about this movie? Well, it’s that Sam Shakusky has it right; he’s got “it” figured out. Even as a twelve year-old, he has managed to become the person I hope I can be, the person we all should hope to be, by the time I’m an “adult.” He doesn’t care about what other people say, about what “society” expects, about what he should do. Instead, he has the confidence to be himself and go after what he wants—he has the confidence to do what feels right. Unlike the adults who accept the expectations that society holds for them (the woman named “social services,” the lawyers, etc.) and accept unhappiness, Sam does not. To this point, what the adults fail to do (make a change), is exactly what Sam and Suzy do when they run away. Which begs the question upon which the entire film revolves: is it possible the older we get, the less “ourselves” we become and the more estranged from our own humanity, or own individuality, we find ourselves? Is it possible that “kids” really have “it” figured out, and us adults are the ones that ought to do some soul-searching? This is, this must be, the crux of Moonrise Kingdom.

So why did Moonrise Kingdom hit a nerve? Well, because it taught me that just because I’m getting older does not mean I’m getting closer to what I want. It taught me that twelve year-old can have his stuff more figured out than I. But fundamentally, it instilled in me the hope I have the temerity to be different, the mettle to go after what I want.

It taught me that just because I’m an adult, does not mean that I should not look up to Sam Shakusky.

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