Wes Anderson’s well-reviewed “Moonrise Kingdom” takes place in 1965 on a beautifully art-directed island, where a pair of 12-year-olds fall in love at first sight. Sam, an orphan, runs away from scout camp to rendezvous with Suzy, who wears eyeliner and knee-socks, and the two set off on a romantic idyll while a handful of morally compromised adults pursue them.
It is a confusing premise, this love story, given that Sam and Suzy hardly talk and are largely presexual. (Communicating and making physical contact are the primary ways I can think of in which people demonstrate love to one another.) Sam and Suzy speak in gnomic phrases and wear flat masks of existential despair while moving through a world of minutely curated picnics, camp sites and coves. Their love is entirely unbelievable, and without it as narrative force, successive scenes quickly take on the tone of blog posts on a well-sourced Tumblr.
The main characters of “Moonrise”—Sam, Suzy, Suzy’s parents, the man with whom Suzy’s mother is having an affair—have no lack of human concerns to dismay them. They cheat on each other and are cuckolded; they are lonely, orphaned, depressed. But these gestures toward dramatic heft are undermined by the panoramic inexpressiveness of the ones whom they afflict. Instead of raging, crumpling, or turning raspberry-faced with tears, the characters wear deliberate outfits and wander amid piles of deliberately arrayed stuff, suggesting that a consistent aesthetic universe will somehow make their startling emotional non-sequiturs intelligible.
Thirty minutes into the film, my hands had furled into irritated claws. Here, it seemed, was an incomplete vision of the world—a wholly aesthetic one—being offered up as a complete one, and my reaction was emetic. I did not like what the movie presumed about my credulity, or about my allegiance to the transcendent importance of buying and collecting cool stuff. I couldn’t stand what it said, or failed to say, about love. Midway through the movie, a line from “The Wings of the Dove” came to mind regarding Wes Anderson: “He had ceased to be amusing—he was simply too inhuman.”
Cranky, maybe, but it’s awfully lonely out here without an ally. “Moonrise” has been getting terrific reviews, and for the life of me I can’t understand why. Mr Anderson, after all, hasn’t always been this way, and three of his earlier films—“Bottle Rocket”, “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums”—are genuinely great. All three also happen to have been co-written by Owen Wilson, with whom Mr Anderson hasn’t collaborated in years. Perhaps it’s time he gave his old writing partner a call.
As published in The Economist