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On the wings of whimsy

OUT NOW! MOONRISE KINGDOM captures the quintessence of childhood with a blend of images, colour and text.

To say that Wes Anderson’s films are carefully crafted is like saying that King Kong was a large primate: kinda obvious. The point being that craftiness exacts a price, as previous films by Anderson have discovered, sometimes to their cost. Recurring themes such as existential sadness, geniality and redemption, the crossover between the exotic and the everyday, the dynamics of family weirdness: they found a context in The Royal Tenenbaums and lost themselves in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

In Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson has created a natural home for his pre-occupations: a remote island community in New England counts down to a hurricane in the mid-1960s. Unpopular and geeky, orphan Sam (Jared Gilman) has eloped from scout camp with a local girl and kindred spirit Suzy (Kara Hayward). Their flight is discovered by Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), and the Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton). Local sheriff and lover of Suzy’s mum, the ineptly named Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) joins the search. Dark clouds begin to roll towards a climactic drenching.

And Anderson’s film is replete, unashamedly so, with all kinds of drenching. Elements are never just used once and it’s this polyvalent, barrage-use of colour, text and image that helps the movie work at so many levels. The sepia-toned yellows and browns of a childhood summer are emblematic of retro-active photo-memories. They are also and quite simply the colour of corn before rain. The passionless, deadpan dialogue featured throughout is equally multifaceted: between Suzy and Sam it’s breathtakingly uncorrupted. Between Suzy’s mother and Captain Ward, it reflects comfort and nuanced acceptance. Between her parents, comfort and a duller kind of resignation. Or take the staging of a medieval play on Noah’s arc in the local church: it sets the scene for a first encounter between Suzy and Sam, anticipates the gathering storm inside and out and turns, finally and majestically into a visual metaphor for salvation.

And so it goes on. Childhood is often hyped as a magical time. Not because it is, but because we’d like to think it was and remember it as such. Whether you have an opinion or not on the benefits of such mechanisms might influence the way you watch this film. Our advice? Go with the flow of wishful thinking. Anderson’s film does, creating a visionary world that still manages to feel wonderfully real, familiar and affectionate.

Moonrise Kingdom | Directed by Wes Anderson (USA 2012) with Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Bill Murray. Starts May 24