Few directors are known for such a unique style as Wes Anderson is. Every shot, every scene, every costume and every deliberate use of color, adds to his eclectic filmography and is the very foundation on which he builds his films. A decade after its release, Moonrise Mixing genres, incredible pre-adolescent love remains one of Anderson’s best works. All of Anderson’s brands are incorporated into the film and yet Moonrise stands out from his other filmography drawing inspiration from his own and co-screenwriter Roman Coppolahis childhood fantasies. Indeed, the multitude of references to fantasy heroes, superpowers and even biblical events creates a unique sense of magical realism in the most astonishing setting.
Moonrise takes place on the fictional island of New Penzance in New England in 1965, far from Anderson’s hometown of Houston, Texas. Perhaps referring to Anderson’s own fantasies of a distant, familiar island where magical adventures take place, the director constructs the setting as if it were a character on its own. Bob Balaban acts as the narrator of the film entering the island through a series of quick cuts to a pebble beach, a pine forest, labyrinthine creeks, dangerous rocks, lush fields, a degraded pier and an old lighthouse. Each of these locations contains significant scenes later in the film, with the Narrator prophesying that a biblical storm would strike the island. In essence, the film manages to entertain as well as inform.
Moonrise revolves around the growing relationship between two troubled minors, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). Having met last summer, the two conspire to leave and live in the wilderness to escape the loneliness they feel in their home life. Susie, the eldest of four siblings and the only daughter, stays away from her parents and often gets into physical fights at school. Sam, a young Khaki scout, is a non-social orphan who is not loved and is unwanted by his foster parents. The two come together when Sam sneaks into the girls’ dressing room during a church performance and singles out Suzy among a flock of other girls dressed in bird-like costumes. Suzy remains distinct from her colorful co-performers, dressed like a striking, black crow and accentuated with dark eyeliner, alluding to her unconventional personality. Sam’s first, weird attempt to flirt wins over the shy and insecure Suzy, and the two begin a year-long written correspondence.
Anderson’s style trademark comes into play through its introduction to Suzy, giving the public a glimpse of home life. Sweeping distant shots take us into the many rooms of the declining Bishops house, with its stylized wallpaper, shelves full of books and gold-framed artwork. Suzy’s parents are shown separated by a wall, her mother (Francis McDormand) relaxes with her robe while her father (Bill Murray) reads a newspaper indifferently. They neither seem to care about their daughter nor notice when she slips out of the house, with her luggage in tow, in daylight. At Camp Ivanhoe, where Sam stays for the summer, Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton) is presented through the morning routine of scout inspections, against the backdrop of an agreement on percussion instruments. Another of Anderson’s traits is evident here, with his ability to draw a dead interpretation from any actor among otherwise silly scenes. Randy discovers that Sam has fled in the middle of the night, launching a nationwide search led by Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). Unfortunately, Susie’s absence is noticed much later in the night, when she and Sam have already escaped into the desert.
It is this escape into the wild where Anderson incorporates elements of magical realism into what would otherwise be a typical comic drama. Sam and Susie appear as fictional characters, with the first adventurer dressed in the Scout uniform and Coonskin hat. The latter looks sweet in her pink Peter-pan collar dress, paired with a woven, carrying bag that houses an adorable kitten. Susie shares her precious books with Sam, which revolve around female fantasy heroes, before retiring to their yellow tent, which serves as a secret escape. The two of them are delightfully embarrassed all the time and the often harsh interpretations of the child actors combine well with the script which is rigid. There is no one who avoids taboo subjects, as shown in The Tenenbaum Kings, Anderson explores the sexuality of pre-adolescence through the first creepy kisses and an attractive dance where the two relax for the first time. Both Suzy and Sam, though too young to break up and start a relationship, are still adorablely honest in their feelings in a genuine show of love for a puppy intertwined with early maturity.
One of Anderson’s strengths lies in his ability to attract well-known actors to play unconventional roles. Bruce Willis moves far enough away from the action hero to play a reserved, somewhat incompetent cop who comes to take deep care of troubled Sam. Edward Norton’s Randy Sharp is dedicated to his role as a Scout Teacher (more than his “side” job as a Mathematics teacher obviously) having established close ties with the Scouts over the summer. Francis McDormand and Bill Murray convey the crumbling nature of Mr. and Mrs. Bishop’s relationship as reflective and conducive to Susie’s instability and desire for attention. Anderson was even able to spot an emerging talent inside Lucas Hetzes (Manchester by the Sea), who initially auditioned for the role of Sam before the director decided he would be a better fit for the role of Redford, a Scout acting as a secondary competitor.
But the real essence of a Wes Anderson film is undoubtedly seen in its details. His cinema Moonrise it often takes on a storybook feel, with symmetrical shots of landscapes and characters adding to its imaginative aspects. One of the most memorable shots of Anderson’s entire filmography is that of Susie looking out with her binoculars (her self-described superpower) while standing at the top of the island’s lighthouse. Anderson somehow made the usual blue sky look whimsical, contrasting the pink-orange of Suzy’s dress and the lighthouse. Beige, orange and green are Anderson’s main color palette appearing in costumes, scenery and natural landscapes, allowing certain aspects such as Suzy’s luggage, her pink dress and her blue eyeshadow to stand out while they add to the feeling that the island itself is a character. Graphic shots flood the film, and Anderson plays with shapes and sizes through his wide shot from the police station, one of his wagons, the post office and the lighthouse, which share a similar palette of red, white and black. Close-ups of turntables, telephone phones, frayed books and glittering Scout pins convey Anderson’s long-standing charm with vintage objects. None of these additions seem to be superfluous, as each piece helps build a longer story that fits the time period while still feeling fantastic. It is these carefully selected details that highlight what could otherwise have been a boring and forgotten romantic story and ultimately explain why Moonrise is such an ongoing cinematic work.
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