Wes Anderson: Moonrise Kingdom

Review of The Criterion Collection Blu-ray edition.

Moonrise Kingdom
d. Wes Anderson (2012)
Spine: #776
Blu-ray Release Date: September 22, 2015

Screen captures below are taken from The Criterion Collection Blu-ray disc, but resolution has been reduced from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed. You may click on them to view the 900x506 image.

My wife and I went to see Moonrise Kingdom (2012) at the theater, something we’re rarely able to do. This was a special event, though: a new Wes Anderson film! It turned out to be a special event, indeed. I was so taken by the film, so enchanted, saddened, and invigorated, that when we walked out I told her I couldn’t wait to get a hold of the Criterion Collection’s inevitable release. Inevitable, yes, but I knew it would be a few years, and I’ve waited mostly patiently. For me, it was worth the wait. Today, you can pick up Moonrise Kingdom in The Criterion Collection’s beautiful new edition, lovingly composed and a delight to experience.

Moonrise Kingdom

Let me start talking about the Criterion Moonrise Kingdom experience by remarking on the box itself. Yes, we are here for the film, but sometimes love for a film can express itself, and be felt, via the packaging, and that’s definitely the case here. The cover itself, which you can see above, is a detailed painting by Michael Gaskell, who also did the painting for the theatrical poster:

Moonrise Kingdom Poster

The painting wraps around the entire digipak box. That yellow title and “directed by” on the cover is actually a sticker on the plastic wrapping. The stuff you’d typically find on the back of a Blu-ray release (blurb, spec details, list of supplements, etc.) is also just a removable page, so the somewhat somber painting (especially in contrast to Gaskell’s original, sunlit poster) is given absolute prominence. Inside the box, besides the disc itself and the booklet (a booklet styled as Indian Corn, a magazine Scoutmaster Ward reads in the film), you’ll find a handful of knick-knacks and ephemera, including a postcard photograph of the cast, a couple of maps from the film of New Penzance and the surrounding islands, and a nice vellum invitation to the 1964 summer’s-end performance of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, styled just like the was hanging up on the bulletin board of St. Jack’s Church in the film. Because the film itself is so tactile, with Anderson focusing on paper in such a way that we can see the fibers and the indentations a pen might make, this is a fitting tribute to that kind of attention and craft.

Of course, the film itself is what really brings us here. The film is what these objects are celebrating.

Criterion had originally slated this home video release for the end of July, right at the height of summer. I originally saw the film in the summer, and indeed the film itself almost feels like a summer film: we’ve got the scout camp, we’ve got the lazing around during the day — we’ve got the pleasant weather — but actually the film takes place at about this time of year, September, at summer’s end, fifty years ago in 1965. Storms are coming, a painful idyll is coming to a bittersweet close. Michael Gaskell’s melancholic Criterion cover highlights this more somber mood while still showing a harbor from a storm.

Moonrise Kingdom focuses its attention on two young protagonists. Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), whom we see here in her raven costume she used in the 1964 performance of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde.

Moonrise Kingdom 1

Suzy lives at Summer’s End with her parents and three younger brothers. When the film begins, we are taken on a tour of the house, staged like a doll house. The young boys play games in the corners. Suzy’s parents (played by Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) do whatever they’re doing alone in their own corners, sometimes shown facing each other but with a wall between them like the great window sequence in Jacques Tati’s Playtime. Suzy is shown peering through binoculars, often times breaking the fourth wall to peer at us. She’s engaged in something outside of the house, while the rest of her family is isolated within it.

As it turns out, she is biding her time, waiting for a prearranged meeting with our second young protagonist, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), shown here in his Khaki Scout uniform.

Moonrise Kingdom 2

Sam is an orphan, passed around from foster family to foster family. He is not malicious, but he does not fit in and does not get along with those around him. Sam and Suzy are both seen as problem children.

Sam and Suzy met the prior year when Suzy was playing the Raven in the church performance. Over the next year, they corresponded solely through letters, getting to know one another slightly, but each desperately needing some connection to the world they did not inhabit every day. They offer each other encouragement and support, which culminates in a plan to run away together the next September. And that’s what they do.

It’s a delightful film as we watch these two twelve year olds attempt to cross the threshold into adulthood. They may not be a perfect match, but at this time in their lives they’re just what the other needs. They can communicate about painful things:

Sam: What happened to your hand?
Suzy: I got hit in the mirror.
Sam: Really? How did that happen?
Suzy: I lost my temper at myself.

At another moment, they’re talking about their families and show they can also talk about dreams and aspirations, as misguided as they might be:

Sam: I feel I’m in a real family now. Not like yours, but similar to one.
Suzy: I always wished I was an orphan. Most of my favorite characters are. I thinks your lives are special.
Sam: I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Suzy: I love you, too.

They set up camp and actually do a very good job providing for each other for the day or two they are away, despite having relatively few great examples from the adult world to whom they could look for guidance. Besides Suzy’s aloof parents, we also have Bruce Willis’s Captain Duffy Sharp, a lonely police officer who is genuinely kind and caring but caught up in his own failures. We have Edward Norton’s Scout Master Randy Ward, another genuinely caring adult, focused on discipline and preparing his boys for survival, but he is also struggling against the disparity between his dreams and his reality. Larry Pine plays Sam’s foster dad, Herbert Billingsley, in a heartbreaking scene where Mr. Billingsley says Sam cannot come back to their home after scout camp, all the more devastating given what Sam has said about this “real family.” Mr. Billingsley’s unwillingness to allow Sam to come back ushers in Tilda Swinton’s character, named only Social Services, like some tribute to morality plays or to American pilgrim fables.

This is an exceptional cast, and I don’t believe any of them showed up just to get paid. Bruce Willis, for example, is far from his general persona here, playing a soft spoken man who does his job under the weight of his own feelings of disappointment with life. The script enhances his insecurities; even when confronting Sam he reiterates what he just said:

What’s your rush? You’ve got your whole life in front of yourself. Ahead of you, I mean.

Edward Norton absolutely shines as Scoutmaster Ward, a math teacher who considers his true job to be his position as scoutmaster. Jason Schwartzman returns to Anderson’s work as Cousin Ben, a kind of chaplain for the scouts who offers Suzy and Sam a chance to give promises to one another.

Moonrise Kingdom 3

They are troubled children, but they’re going to move forward and shake up the adult world in the process. Which brings me back to Suzy’s parents, Walt and Laura Bishop. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand perform in a profound scene while they’re contemplating just what has happened to their daughter. There’s a terrible storm brewing outside, and they’re lying in bed, talking:

Laura: I’m sorry, Walt.
Walt: It’s not your fault. [pause] Which injuries are you apologizing for, specifically?
Laura: Specifically? Whichever ones still hurt.
Walt: Half of those were self-inflicted.

Murray continues to stare at the ceiling, listening to the storm, his eyes absolutely exhausted and pained.

Walt: I hope the roof flies off ,and I get sucked up into space. You’ll be better off without me.
Laura: Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
Walt: Why?
Laura: [sighing] We’re all they’ve got, Walt.
Walt: That’s not enough.

It’s a powerful scene. Things are not as they should be, and they’ll never be exactly as they should be. But this may be the start of trying to make them better, little by little. Though we still have to weather this terrible storm that’s not quite built up to its peak destructive power. The final act of the film is exciting, funny, touching, and quite powerful.


Supplements: This package is just plain fun and creative. While there is little provided that analyzes the film, there is a lot included that shows just how much heart the cast and crew put into it. The art and charm of the movie seemed to infect them, and it’s no surprise they carried their roles over into several of the supplements.

  • First, there is a full-length audio commentary, set up in an interesting way. Jake Ryan (who plays Lionel in the film) and Peter Becker almost serve as moderators, interviewing Wes Anderson. From time to time, they call in Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, and Roman Coppola (who shares the screenwriting credit with Anderson). While sometimes you’ll get pristine, scripted, controlled commentaries (like the ones by Peter Cowie) this one is kind of like staying up late with friends (indeed, it appears Peter Becker falls asleep at one point). In short, it’s roughly hewn — in contrast to much of Anderson’s style and design — but that in itself lends to the charm. And it’s not like the whole track is a bunch of slips and slides. Anderson’s insights on the film’s inception and development are great. And it’s worth noting Bill Murray’s favorite scene in the film — in fact, he says the favorite scene he’s ever done — is the one I brought up above where he’s lying in bed, feeling the void suck him in. Very worthwhile, and filled with the energy — even when Becker falls asleep.
  • Next, we have Exploring the Set, a 17:11 minute-long behind the scenes look at the film. Anderson is definitely a detail-oriented director, and this short documentary, put together from footage shot by Martin Scali, Anderson’s assistant, gives us a peak at how he continued to be exacting and technical in a film shot outside and with a bunch of kids.
  • This section of the disc includes a few rather short bits of “making of” footage as well, such as 8-minutes’ worth of narrator tests and animatics. Interestingly, Anderson himself plays the role of the narrator in these tests, again showing just how much technical control he exerts over the film. We also get 4-minute of auditions from the children who show up in the film. My wife walked in while I was watching this part and genuinely thought Kara Hayward was just talking and answering questions about herself, that’s how good she did in that audition. Jared Gilman is rather kooky and endearing with a mane of long hair on his small head. It’s easy to see how these two won their roles.
  • The next section of the disc features a few short looks at the locations and set. We have a 4-minute “Welcome to New Penzance with Bob Balaban, the narrator, introducing the cast and film. I believe I saw this at the time the film was released, so we’re getting quite a bit of marketing material here. Next we get a 3-minute “Set Tour with Bill Murray” that is quite funny as he talks about the cast and crew a bit (“Bruce Willis, typecast again,” he says in his deadpan).
  • Along these lines we get a 21-minute compilation of eleven iPhone videos that Edward Norton shot while on set. He downloaded some 8mm film app, so the pieces look like old home videos. This is where it becomes rather clear that people liked working on this film with each other and under the direction of Wes Anderson.
  • We also get a too-short 2-minute piece about Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, which Anderson has performed in as a child. I would have liked some more about the opera itself as well as some analysis about how it plays in the film.
  • Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman) also shows up in character to run a screening of Moonrise Kingdom for the scouts. It’s also quite short at 2:03.
  • Lastly, other than the theatrical trailer, we get one of my favorite supplements: “Animated Books.” In the film, Suzy packs up some of her favorite books (books she admits, shyly and guiltily to Sam, that she stole from the library). She reads these at night out loud to Sam (or whoever else is there). This being a Wes Anderson film, each book has a distinct somehow just perfect cover that evokes in me wonder and nostalgia. This 4-minute supplement runs like a Scholastic home video where the stories are animated in illustration style while Suzy reads the narration. Of course, this is far too short as we want these entire books, but it’s a pretty perfect piece that again pays tribute to Anderson’s attention to detail and texture.
  • Last, there’s the package itself, which I talked about above, but which also includes an essay on the film by Geoffrey O’Brien, but also, interestingly, five responses to the film from young fans.

7 thoughts on “Wes Anderson: Moonrise Kingdom

  1. I have, Lee — I’m all caught up on my Anderson feature film watching :-) . Bottle Rocket was actually the one I put off watching, only watching it about a year ago for the first time, well after acknowledging to myself that I’m a Wes Anderson fan. I loved it! I was worried it would be slight and juvenile, but I found a lot to enjoy, from the first scene (I love the escape from the hospital!) to the end.

  2. I’ve always found Anderson to be a rather twee, overrated hipster-appeaser, despite finding most of his movies harmless if trivial. I authentically enjoy Bottle Rocket just fine and I laugh out loud a few times over the course of the film. I do the same with Rushmore but it has longer boring stretches. The Life Aquatic is just tedious. I couldn’t bring myself to even watch The Darjeeling Limited or the fox thing. Tenenbaums has its moments but it’s a gratuitous Salinger rip off (and not in an homage sort of way). The Grand Budapest Hotel is charming and well acted but pretty forgettable, it’s a pastry, a literal pink-icing’d cream puff. I guess it’s his immaturity and unwillingness to engage with the real world that always niggles me when it comes to the guy’s films. He’s making dioramas, hermetically sealed terrariums that have little to say about real life and how it’s lived.

    Moonrise Kingdom, however, is a masterpiece. This man-boy perfectly articulates something real finally. He captures the glories and failures of childhood and adolescence better than anything I’ve seen on screen in the last 25 years with the exception of Malick’s Tree of Life. Here, Anderson’s uncanny ability to accurately portray youth (probably because he’s never properly grown up himself) is in the best way Salingerian. The performances are somehow perfect too (and I absolutely LOATH 99% of child actors). This and The Wire and Danny Torrance from Kubrick’s The Shining, that’s about it as far as great kid performances. OK, and The 400 Blows kid and Bicycle Thieves and young Dunst and young Paquin. There’s probably a few more other tolerable ones. But the point is Anderson really knocks this one out of the proverbial park. Just well-observed and tonally perfect at every step. It’s the only film of his I’d own in my library and this looks like a great must-own Criterion release.

  3. We definitely agree on Moonrise Kingdom, Sean — it’s my favorite of his by quite some way. I do find a lot to admire in the rest of his body of work, though, even if I know exactly where you’re coming from. As an Anderson fan, I’ve had to deal with those criticisms to his work for years! I do find more to his films than many, and I hope (though who’s to say) it’s not because I’m the kind of hipster (if I’m a hipster at all) that gulps this stuff up. I think he finds subtle ways to let the real world take a crack at his admittedly fabricated world. The intrusion of the brutal chaotic world into the fabricated world (fabricated by the very people telling the story) is one of the strongest aspects of Grand Budapest Hotel for me. I took a crack at explaining my admiration of that film here.

  4. Thank you Sean and Trevor for this enriching conversation! What a pleasure to read about your joy from this movie.

  5. The first time I watched it wasn’t my favourite film by him I recently watched it again and found more to it second time round it has a real quaint tweeness to it I love things like what the bring to runaway made me laugh .Not my favourite that still life aquatic can’t help that huge bowie fan so the bowie cover just make that my favourite film by him

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