Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Moonrise Kingdom -- young love, childhood innocence, and salvation by flood

Director: Wes Anderson, 2012 (PG-13)

Offbeat and quirky, Moonrise Kingdom is quintessential Anderson, even down to the actors he uses (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman). It is a tale of two lovers. But these lovers are adolescent misfits shunned by their families.

Set on an island off the coast of New England in the 1960s, Anderson creates a world of his own. This is a roadless realm of few cars, and one town, a community that must pull together in the face of danger and need. The need comes when the two young lovers run away. The danger comes when the storm of the century approaches.

Sam (Jared Gilman) is a bespectacled Khaki Scout, an orphan who is hated by his fellow scouts for no apparent reason. Suzy (Kara Hayward) is the eldest daughter of two lawyers Walt (Murray) and Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand). The separation of her parents, even within the family, is shown in the opening scenes as they are in separate rooms communicating through a bull-horn.

Through flashback we see Sam and Suzy’s budding relationship emerge from their “love-at-first sight” beginnings when she was a bird in the school pageant performing Noah’s Ark. Through love letters penned to one another, they conceive a plan to meet in a meadow and run away across the island to a bay, where they rename the island Moonrise Kingdom.

When they run away, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) calls the police chief Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and together with the scout troop and islanders they form up a rescue-hunting party. With the searchers getting closer, so is the storm.

Anderson juxtaposes the wonders of young love, puppy love really, with the cynicism or clich├ęs of mature love, particularly through the dialog of Sam and Suzy. Despite their youth, they talk like people decades older even when their subject is pre-adolescent. For example, when Sam is preparing to share a tent with Suzy, he says: “It’s possible I may wet the bed by the way. Later, I mean.” And Suzy, declaring to her parents, “We’re in love. We just want to be together. What’s wrong with that?” We’ve heard this line in any number of movies, yet never from a 12 year-old.

Young love and loss of innocence form the central thesis of the film. The relationship that Sam and Suzy share, mostly through letters, is a flowering of love with all its pains and pleasures. But it is an innocent love that exalts in dancing in underwear on a deserted beach all, and then discovers the tastes of tongue in French kissing. But innocence does not last, if it was really ever there. And the beginning of act 2, along with the discovery of Mrs. Bishop’s affair and the actions of Sam’s foster parents, usher in that post-innocence era. Adolescence indeed does transition a person from child to teen but at the cost of his or her innocence.

Biblically, innocence was lost at the Fall (Gen. 3), when humanity succumbed to the temptations to seek Godlikeness. Despite this, people typically feel that young children retain a certain innocence, a form of moral unaccountability. But none would argue that innocence is lost around the teenage years.

With innocence lost, a form of salvation is necessary. Here in Moonrise Kingdom Sam and Suzy need to be saved, both for themselves and for their community. And Anderson gives us a form of salvation by water. The flood that was depicted theatrically earlier in the film befalls the town, destroying homes and harbor. But the community is saved by taking refuge in the ark: the Church of St Jack. And only when the community pulls together can Sam and Suzy escape the separation that Child Services (Tilda Swinton) wants to enforce, along with mandatory electroshock therapy. Indeed, at the climax Sam faces up to his particular need for a father.

These two themes, of salvation by water and the fatherless finding a father, are eminently biblical.

The flood in Noah’s time (Gen. 7-8) brought destruction and death through the deluge. But the ark provided salvation for Noah and his family. Later, Jesus came by water and blood (1 Jn. 5:6) and brought his own form of salvation to all. This salvation offers forgiveness of sin and absence of condemnation (Rom. 8:1), all through the washing in the blood of the Son (Rev. 7:14). Sam and Suzy’s baptism echoes Noah’s baptism and points to our baptism into the saving ark of Jesus Christ.

Moreover, we are all creations of God, made in his image. He is our father. When we reject or ignore this, we live life fatherless, orphaned like Sam. We harbor a deep need to feel a father’s love. The Bible has almost 40 verses that call out to the fatherless in the nation of Israel, all pointing out that God watches over the fatherless (Ps. 146:9). But in the New Testament we come across a God that wants us to call him Father. In the most famous prayer in the Bible, Jesus tells us to pray, “Our Father . . . “ (Matt. 6:9). He tells us that if we love and follow him, the father will come into us (Jn. 14:23). And if we recognize this burning need and receive him, we instantly enter into his family and become true children of God (Jn. 1:12), now ready to call God our Father. The fatherless come home into community.

Anderson has made another gem, both precocious and poignant. His typical style of meticulous and visually colorful backdrops is there. His atemporal landscape is almost magical, a fantasy that is grounded in the reality of childhood hope and irresponsibility. And it all plays out with an understated gravity and nostalgia that belie the depth of the themes involved. It’s not hysterically funny. But that’s not Anderson’s style. But it is well-acted and captures the recklessness and openness of childhood friendships, even if they are not true love!

Copyright ©2013, Martin Baggs

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