“Something Happened”

Following last week’s post on Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, I came across an analysis of the film by Matt Zoller Seitz, a praised film critic and essayist. From Chapter 7 of his book, The Wes Anderson Collection, he explores some of the same themes I previously wrote about myself: those of parents and children becoming equals.

“The kids of ‘Moonrise Kingdom’…are lumps of clay, inexpertly trying to mold themselves after years of being shaped by others. But grownups and their institutions are unfinished, too. ‘Moonrise’’s adults forget that fact until renegade 12-year olds—eerily intense Khaki Scout Sam Shukusky (Jared Gillman) and hot-tempered bookworm Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward)—remind them of it.”

edward-norton-as-ward-in-moonrise-kingdomEqualized both by the plot and cinematography, the adults and children find themselves mutually clueless. My post last week explored this idea via the geometry of Moonrise‘s shots, but Seitz brings the idea further than I had through a look at character interaction. Considering not just the adults but the institutions they run, he suggests that the children become the teachers and the adults students.

“Sam and Suzy are surrounded by individuals and organizations that care about them without truly hearing or seeing them. Then the kids act out in ways that demand their full attention, forcing them to abandon their self-infatuated melodramas and ossified routines and rules and think about other people, specifically young people, as people, rather than as responsibilities or problems. And what happens? Scandal. Crisis. Complete social breakdown. And ultimately, reconciliation and evolution.”

This role-reversal comes about inadvertently through “misbehavior” but remains as effective. Sam and Suzy discover something incredible in the titular Kingdom that puts them ahead of adults, and the rest of the film is spent imparting that something, intentionally or otherwise, to the adults that try to return to the status-quo. Explaining to Captain Sharp, Sam says “something also happened, which we didn’t do on purpose. When we first met each other, something happened to us.” Seitz calls this something “a little miracle” and elaborates on what he feels that means. To him, the miracle is something “most people are lucky to experience in a lifetime: a meeting of true minds that would not admit impediment.”

To me though, that only scratches the surface of what Anderson may have been indicating here. Comparison’s to Terrence Malick’s Badlands have been drawn and with good reason: both heavily feature two outcast children, incompetent and/or oppressive adults, and themes of rebellion and isolation. But where Badlands depicts the world as a relentless, joyless, and inflexible prison, Moonrise Kingdom shows us it’s a vast sea, one in which everyone is isolated until they find someone else to navigate with them.


In this sense I feel Seitz’ “miracle” goes even further. Sam and Suzy aren’t just like minds, they’re the only solace for each other in a world that’s meaningless and oppressive alone. This lesson is repeated for the film’s adults, something they begin to consider by the end. The two Bishop parents don’t change themselves much at all; Mrs. Bishop yells on her megaphone and Mr. Bishop seems hopeless as ever. But they’re heard yelling at the children together and not alone as the beginning of the film emphasized. Both come together for their children, even if, as Mr. Bishop fears, “it’s not enough.” Captain Sharp, as previously discussed, finds meaning in raising Sam as his son, and Scoutmaster Ward in his newfound bravery and noble (after ‘rescuing’ Sam) scout troop. Each find a meaning much like Suzy and Sam do, something to get them through life and perhaps even give it purpose.


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