The Ceremony, Again, of Innocence

by Michael Potemra

The older I get, the more I find my reactions to new films dividing into two crude categories: “Ugh, not that movie again” and “Damn! There need to be more like this one.” Many of the reviews of the new movie Prometheus — which I have not (yet) seen — suggest that it’s in the former category. The movies of Wes Anderson are emphatically in the latter. Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited — all are sweet, sentimental comedies of human frailty and eccentricity, art-directed, soundtrack-selected, and color-coordinated to within an inch of their lives.

In terms of their look and sound, one cannot mistake Anderson’s movies for anyone else’s; but what’s most distinctive of all is his attitude toward his characters. I remember reading a criticism of J. D. Salinger, an acknowledged influence on Anderson, to the effect that he likes his characters even more than he ought to; I think a similar insight would apply to Anderson himself — but I would contend that, with Anderson as with Salinger, it’s not so much a matter of authorial self-indulgence as of basic compassion for human beings and their follies. (I tried to reread Salinger’s only full-length novel recently — you know the one, it used to be assigned practically at birth to all American children — and I couldn’t really get on with it. But his shorter works — Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, and some of the stories in Nine Stories — deserve to endure, for precisely the reason Wes Anderson’s movies should: They communicate to the audience a genuine affection for their subjects, and a suggestion that we’d better off if we looked at our own world the same way.)

The plot of Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson’s new movie, is simple: In the late summer of 1965, two children — a boy and a girl — fall in love and run away, the boy from his scout troop and the girl from her family. The scout troop, led by a scoutmaster played by Edward Norton, and other locals, led by the police chief (Bruce Willis), organize to search for the two fugitives. The love between the two children is of a pre-sexual kind, and is depicted, as one would expect, with sympathy and knowing humor; a love triangle involving some key adult characters underscores the point that, while people’s sexuality naturally changes as they mature, the actions of people in love are often no less ridiculous when the people are middle-aged than when they are 12.

If you look at the list of Wes Anderson movies above and think, Man, I hated that, you should probably avoid this one. But if you loved any of them, or if you’re simply in the mood for a quirky, intelligent, innocent comedy that has a few laughs, a few tears, and a pervasive warmth, you should see Moonrise Kingdom.

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