These items reveal that their excursion originates from a particular childhood understanding of running away, but the new feelings stirring inside them, of curiosity, attachment, caring and, yes, perhaps even love, feel so strong and immediate. In self-confident, yet halting ways these kids begin to see their adventure writ larger and more passionately on their hearts. The boy is an orphan and the girl is emotionally troubled and from an eccentric family. To them, this is not just an attempt to flee lives they find inadequate and have a fun time together. They’re fleeing into their fantasies and the merging of their imaginations becomes not just a woodsy adventure or a lovely camping experience, but a grand romance with two budding lovers on the run. The boy’s peppy scout leader (Edward Norton, with a gee-whiz wholesome exterior) has marshaled his remaining campers and joined forces with the island’s sole police officer (Bruce Willis, bespectacled and business-like) to track down the runaways. The girl’s family – three small brothers, a worried mother (Frances McDormand, tightly-wound) and a slow-boiling depressive father (Bill Murray, looking through sad, tired eyes) – join in on the search as well, which is rather patient, considering the circumstances.
This is a film full of delicate scenes, tenderly acted by Gilman and Hayward, the young leads. This is their first film and Anderson has helped them create such confidently, wonderfully drawn characters, located so precariously on the edge of childhood, but not quite ready to tip over into full-blown adolescence. Each of these kids has moments where they look straight-ahead into the camera in tight close-up and reveal such deep feelings, which only adds to their soft kindness and moments of adorable precociousness. Their relationship – love, or something like it – develops with an emotional truth that is often (unfairly) not associated with Anderson’s exacting mastery over the formal elements of filmmaking. Torn between the worlds of childhood imagination and problems of adulthood, these two troubled kids run away to the woods where the privacy of shared solitude allows them to become who they think they are, deep down inside. Here is a film world of real innocence and real potential danger. This is a film with a profound respect for childhood and the perspectives and feelings of the young. Music swells and the camera moves for big moments of emotionality; to the young, any event sufficiently impactful is worthy of a personal epic. After all, the young couple first met the year before at a local church’s production of Benjamin Britten’s Noah’s ark opera, an appropriately ornate dramatic backdrop to spark puppy love. Their escape feels ripped out of the movies and informed by the adventures in the books they cart with them and the sophistication they think find in totems of adulthood (like French pop music or a pipe).
Moonrise Kingdom is a deeply romantic film about change, about moving into adolescence, about the doubts, uncertainty, depression, and confusion that can follow into adulthood where such feelings can settle, creating miscommunications and dissatisfactions. It’s such an evocative portrayal of this collision of moods and sensations in a film that’s at once so contained, taking place over the course of only a few days on a small island, and yet filled with so many whimsical flourishes of Anderson’s imagination that it feels like a rich world, wonderfully, carefully designed. It’s a film full of liminal moments shot through with a potent melancholy of childhood’s end and the growing knowledge that adults have within them a deep sadness and uncertainty. Passions and interests seize the soul with intensity and then pass like an especially violent storm. And from the devastation comes new and unexpectedly fruitful growth.