“And here, as they sit side by side and look out over the water, in a sense they regard the passage of innocence and the disturbing possibility of maturity.”
-Roger Ebert’s Review of Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson’s renowned film Moonrise Kingdom features an unrelenting obsession with geometry and symmetry that, frankly, I can’t help but read far too much into. In a style Anderson’s viewers are well-acquainted with, almost the entire movie is designed like a surreal and fantastic stage play. Several shots move exclusively on one plane, travelling down a line of people and objects that all face the audience in an experience reminiscent of viewing the length of a stage. The film is packed full of symmetrical shots that highlight two to three subjects, emphasizing the relationship between them all.
This shot, arguably the most important of the film, features Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) in the foreground adorned in the nature around them. Unmistakable in the background is the bright-yellow campsite, smack in the center of the young lovers. Acting as a unifying link between two equals, the tent is a symbol of their bond. This thread of reason may seem obvious, but the ways it’s repeated and, perhaps more interestingly, the ways it’s broken can tell us a lot about the characters.
The divide (or lack thereof) between the adults and children particularly caught my attention. The adults in the film, to steal a phrase from Tilda Swindon’s character, are “appallingly incompetent”, sometimes more so than the children. Beyond that, the adults are also just as “lost” as the children appear to be, taking little to no interest in their lives. Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) is an inexperienced police officer, delegating a search party to children and struggling to find passion in a dull life of rejection. The Bishop parents, Laura (Frances McDormand) and Walt (Bill Murray) have lost what seems to be any unifying link, asking each other about court cases in quiet monotone to fill silence. Even Swindon’s character, named simply “Social Services” is depicted sighing longingly after discussing a case before closing her files and moving on to the next dispassionately. Like Sam and Suzy, the adults are lost in a world they seem to have lost grasp of. Ultimately, both the adults and children need a purpose in each other.
The cinematography assists this theme through Anderson’s heavy-handed geometry. Take Walt and Suzy for example. Both have severely short tempers, something neither seem to realize Walt has passed on to his daughter. After being “rescued” from the titular Moonrise Kingdom, Suzy and Walt have an equalizing exchange both visually and verbally.
Both characters are presented in the center and focus of the shot. Both are sitting down, and both are facing the similar states of disoriented unhappiness. Set up as equals and not in a hierarchy, it becomes easier to see that Suzy and her father have a lot in common, and she may really have found something her father is missing.
This shot of Sam and Captain Sharp is set up in a similar way, with obvious but small differences in height and clutter. The dialogue and symmetry between the two emphasize their similar situations, and hint at their eventual life together as father and son. Captain Sharp highlights this link, between adult and child, with what I feel is one of the most potent quotes in the movie.
“Look, let’s face it, you’re probably a much more intelligent person than I am. In fact, I guarantee it. But even smart kids stick they’re finger in electrical sockets sometimes. It takes time to figure things out. It’s been proven by history. All mankind makes mistakes. It’s our job to try to protect you from making the dangerous ones, if we can. You want a slug?”
In a ridiculous demonstration of his point, Sharp offers Sam a glass of beer after warning him that everyone, even adults, make dangerous mistakes. He admits that Sam, a 12 year-old child, is probably smarter than him, and the two go on to discuss how the bachelor Sharp can’t seem to find what Sam has with Suzy. They are equals in this sense, and the symmetry between them reinforces that.
So the “disturbing possibility of maturity” Ebert writes of has less to do with growing up in the traditional sense and more to do with letting the purpose and happiness Sam and Suzy found at Moonrise Kingdom pass by. Despite their efforts to act mature, the two young lovers end up showing their pursuers there’s value in being young. Bolstered by the geometry, everyone in the film finds themselves a little lost in the world, adult and child alike.