This article or something like it appeared in The Tacoma Ledger on 7/9/2012. My bad.
Wes Anderson’s latest movie, Moonlight Kingdom falls right into line with his previous works with meticulously planned settings, plots, emotions and literally everything else. It may have begun as a compulsion of his to control every aspect of a movie, but it’s now acknowledged as his signature style. And at this point, if it was at all remedied and he was to loosen the reins at all we would be disappointed. With Moonlight Kingdom, we treasure all his idiosyncratic creations and would likely revolt if they were stripped away for the trifle benefit of Mr. Anderson’s mental health. Thankfully his continued legacy of obsessing has left with this wonderful story.
I think more than anything, this movie is constructed around a theme of love that obliterates all concepts of age. The relationship that this movie centers around is between a young boy, Sam and a young girl, Suzie played astonishingly by first movie actors, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. Both are polite yet fiery children who seem to defy everyone’s efforts to understand them. They are even violent. They each feel the unbridled intensity of emotions that most of us have been taught to suppress for whatever reasons. Vicariously, we follow them on their adventure and through them feel the urge to be free of such emotional incarceration. We also find ourselves wanting to understand them as intimately as the two of them understand each other.
Anderson fans and others will perhaps want to roast me for this, but I’m going to put this movie in a shocking context for a moment. I do it because I found it to be a profound moment in cinema. Recently at a library staff training, (I also work in libraries) we reviewed American libraries’ sacred code to defend intellectual freedom, that is the rights of every citizen to engage in entirely free expression and also the rights of people to have access to all varieties of information. One exemption to these constitutional rights is creating or viewing child pornography. The reason of course is because creating or viewing child pornography is a crime that victimizes children. Not uncomfortably, but interestedly, I found Moonlight Kingdom to be gesturing toward a blurry middle ground.
Let me not mince words –Nothing about this movie should be confused with anything illicit. That free speech training was still bubbling in my thoughts as I was watching this movie and that is the only reason I was aware of the presence of a possible flashpoint. Herein lies the really gratifying power of this movie – that we understand the film’s emotional message of love is stronger than any politics of censorship, therefore as we watch, all controversies are at once removed from the table.
I most definitely remember being in love at an early age. As you’ll note, nothing in that statement is in quotes or diminished in its validity. We too often rationalize childhood love in terms of juvenile crushes or puppy love. Childhood is so ripe with feeling and sensory novelty, and as kids we have yet to classify and judge everything as known. So when I first experienced love I had to feel it out and grapple with it. Although I have tucked it pretty well away into my memory, I still wonder about that other person who placed that lovely burden on me. In Moonlight Kingdom childhood love is portrayed as impactful as any love between two adults, but it glows with a vividness that only exists from childhood.
Moonlight Kingdom is expertly crafted to help viewers of any age revisit childhood and make real this defining period of our lives. Anderson meticulously renders family homes and family dynamics. He brings back his neat cinematic trick of moving scenes through a cross-section of a set such as a family home or a church theater along with abundant simultaneous action from a myriad of characters in separate rooms. It affects a childlike sensation that there are always more spaces, things and people to explore. Landscapes are rich and colorful and so are the objects, play-things and tree-forts lending the best chromatic shades to the images of youth. Geography is always present too as scene interludes include traveling maps and guides to the Island where the movie takes place making the scenes feel like panels in a comic book. The final touch is to place this movie in a representation of the 1960’s that should capture anyone’s sense of innocence.
Moonlight Kingdom is populated by stars, but most of the movie follows child actors and Anderson manages carefully their work and this creates rigid dialogue between the children, but somehow is has intended outcome of seeming more potent this way. Stars such as Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and Edward Norton shine brightly in scenes, but it’s the kids who earn our hearts with their earnestness.
Youth, memory, imagination and of course love now playing at The Grand Cinema.