Update 2019: Another viewing, and I’m still convinced that the central enigma of Anderson’s style is that it still feels as much like a reckoning as a refuge: for everything he asks of us, there’s as clear a sense that he is hiding more from us, and from himself. His brutally mannered style often feels like overprotective personal authoritarianism, the kind of excessive formalism of a director composing his characters’ worlds with an absolutist sense of extreme mastery. To that extent, this film’s style is actually more authoritarian than ever, the cleanliness of Anderson’s lines (both geometric and linguistic) all the more shielding and unyielding, all the more unforgivingly sculpted down to the most atomistic level. And, as with all of Anderson’s films, Moonrise Kingdom not only externalizes its characters expressionistically but defines those characters by their willfully expressionistic selves: at first blush, they simply refuse to not choreograph their very souls for us, to adorn their walls with markers of their core being, using style as a shorthand for self rather than asking us to figure out anything about them.
Moonrise Kingdom makes this manifest in the narrative as well: more than ever, his youthful protagonists’ childlike replication of emotional maturity and sensible domestication have the automatic quality of predetermined conclusions, children unthinkingly performing what they’ve been programmed to by adults. If Moonrise Kingdom is autobiographical, not necessarily at the level of narrative event mimicking his personal life but at the level of formal embellishment exposing his soul, then this becomes the first film where Anderson’s style finally peers back into itself to explore its own self-construction, and, more importantly, the nervousness underlying that construction. Perhaps because it meditates on the character Anderson might be or might become, it does feel as though Anderson’s aesthetics have stopped excessively signposting his characters and begun to tease out what they themselves don’t (or can’t) signpost for us. The effect of this is arguably to turn Anderson’s toyboxes into tragedies.
Rather than reassuring our own desires to manicure our personal images and govern our own personal spaces, his film (and his follow-up, The Grand Budapest Hotel) finally seems to actually delve into the chaos of the mind beneath the flattened diorama exteriors and precious costume shelters. The latter no longer seem representative of his characters’ souls but, rather, indicative of their anxieties, no longer expressing who they “are” so much as what they either refuse to admit or don’t realize they can’t admit. Their symmetrical equipoise (as domineering as ever in Anderson’s cinema) seems less the tyrannical domain of a dictator-director and more an admission of guilt on Anderson’s part, an acknowledgment of a cloistered soul whose personal directorial style has sometimes existed to protect him (and us) from recognizing our collective arrested development, from admitting to that which we can’t control, style, and comport with.
Moonrise Kingdom thematizes this tragic sense of self more eloquently than any previous Anderson film, evoking a greater sense of melancholic loss, of personal absence, his characters’ wounds starting to open for us to see. I, for one, still can’t tell that it doesn’t just amount to an overgrown child tidying up his soul with compositional tableau and cleansing his mind with figurines corralled, guarded, and stabilized rather than excavating his inner-self and exposing his raw nerves for us. In other words, Moonrise Kingdom tunnels so far down into Anderson’s personal underground warren that one can’t tell whether he is exposing new light or just hiding from it. But it certainly doesn’t feel like personal exhaustion, which is where I thought Anderson was heading circa 2010, and that alone suggests a director who still has crevices worth exploring.
And the story of Wes Anderson not so much reinventing or adding to his aesthetic but reigning it in continues. When we last left him, he’d staved off a career of middling recreations of his first few films by turning to animation. With Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson’s return to live-action filmmaking, he seems to have learned a fair bit from his previous effort about loosening up and introducing a little fluidity and naturalism into his rigid formalism. The whole film is consummately Anderson-like – it would be a pale-faced lie to introduce this film as Anderson changing it up. But there’s a less suffocating air to the whole thing, more room for Anderson’s precision to breathe and infuse the wide open spaces of the New England vacation-land the film calls home. If Fantastic Mr. Fox was Anderson unhinged, this is him sitting back and relaxing, more comfortable than he’s ever been with himself and letting the wind take him any which way. Continue reading