October 12, 2012 -- I finally got to see this film recently (it was a local film series selection) and I was very moved by it. It is not only a wonderful romantic comedy and a beautiful tribute to young love, but it also illustrates the deep divide between the Baby Boom generation and the previous generation.
This last part may not have been the filmmaker's intention (Wes Anderson of “Rushmore”) but I was struck by similarities in certain story elements to those in another film about this same era, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.” I am also in the process of reading a very good book about my generation, “The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy.” This caused me to view this film in a different light than other reviewers might, so keep that in mind, too.
At the heart of this film, set in the year 1965, are two young lovers, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) who are both non-conformists. In 1965, non-conformists were viewed as a danger to society. At that time society was controlled by the so-called “Greatest Generation.” In those days society was prepared to take measures, sometimes extreme measures, to bring non-conformists into line with a very rigid and narrow idea of conformity (using such means as corporal punishment, electro-shock therapy and even lobotomies as seen in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest”).
In “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,” the agent of conformity was Nurse Mildred Ratched (played chillingly and brilliantly by Louise Fletcher). In “Moonrise Kingdom,” the agent of conformity is a very similar character, played by Tilda Swinton (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), who plays a relentless State Social Services case worker who is determined to institutionalize the wayward non-conformist orphan, Sam Shakusky, with the idea of giving him electroshock therapy until he conforms to the ideal of an ordinary boy.
Sam and Suzy have been carrying on a secret relationship with letters, but one day they decide to run away together. Sam escapes from his tent in the Khaki Scout summer camp and Suzy runs away from her home. The meet up in a memorable scene set in an open field, then set off for a remote part of New Penzance Island where Suzy lives (Penzance means “Holy Headland” in Cornish, and the name could be a reference to a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, “The Pirates of Penzance”). The Khaki Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton of “Fight Club”) mobilizes his scouts, which are camped on the same island, to find the missing scout. The lone policeman on the island, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis of “Live Free or Die Hard”) also mobilizes for a search of the island.
Sam and Suzy travel by trails to a remote area on the island, where they live in a kind of magical romantic haze, learning about each other and themselves. Their love is selfless, true and total, a magical mixture of adult and puppy love. Wes Anderson captures this elusive transition from childhood into adulthood as well as anyone ever has in this film. This depiction of love and the spirit of youth is just wonderful. The film gives you the feeling that anything is possible.
Sam and Suzy are eventually captured, but never contained. In a clever turn of events, the forces aligned against these two are disarmed and more humane people step in to resolve the situation, unlike “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” in which the main character is killed.
The film is filled with striking imagery, including two lightning strikes, a striking church production of Noye's Fludde by Benjamin Britten (and other references to the story of Noah), a very surrealistic tree house and some wonderful island scenery. Bruce Willis turns in an Oscar-worthy performance as the steady, decent, humanistic, self-realized, heroic Captain Sharp and the two young lovers are perfect. The rest of the star-studded cast is also solid, as you would expect, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as Suzy's parents, Harvey Keitel as the old-school uncompromising scout master and Edward Norton as a much more kindly scout master. Jason Schwartzman also turns in a nice performance as does Bob Balaban, who plays the film's narrator, and also the island historian character.
Wes Anderson has outdone himself with this film. I've liked his other films, but I don't like them nearly as much as his fans like them. This, I think, is his best, most fully realized work yet, and I am definitely looking forward to his next film. If he can top this, that would really be something. This is the best film I've seen so far this year. It rates an A.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.