Moonrise Kingdom and the Truth of Young Love

Midway through Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, young Sam sneaks his way into the girl’s dressing room. The three girls  he finds inside are dressed as birds, awaiting their cues to take the stage in an eclectic staging of the Noah’s ark story.

“What kind of bird are you?” Sam asks.

She informs him that she’s a raven, but Sam’s intentions are rhetorical. What he wants to know about her are things that words cannot convey. His query does lead to a pen pal relationship with Suzy. Eventually the two of them decide to run away together and live off the supplies and gear Sam has pilfered from his Khaki Scout troop.

The idea of young love has woven its way through countless films. The theme often plays as cloying, a sickeningly sweet series of “aww” moments that cannot deliver a believable connection between characters.

Take, for instance, Liam Neeson’s son (another Sam) in Love Actually. Sam pines for a girl in his class, and with the sage wisdom and careful coaxing of a pre-bad ass Neeson, eventually stops her from boarding a plane at the gate. There’s nothing inherently bad about Sam’s crush on schoolmate Joanna, but there’s nothing remarkably realistic about it either. The lesson to be learned from the events that transpire is that love can conqueror all, which most of us can say with fair certainty is not quite so.

Scoutmaster Ed Norton discovers Sam has left camp in Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom’s ingenuity lies in selling the audience on Sam and Suzy’s connection to one another before asking us to accept they’d truly attempt to runaway. The two write each other letters, suffer through individual alienations and eventually realize they have nothing to leave behind by escaping together. Put simply, the young love of Sam and Suzy works because Anderson treats it as adult love.

Exploring the emotions and legitimacy of young folk has always been a strong suit for Anderson, as evidenced by characters like Max Fischer in Rushmore and the tracksuited twins Uzi and Ari in Royal Tenanbaums. There’s something childlike in the visceral quality of all Anderson films, as if his elevated aesthetic and quirky situations reflect how a kid might imagine adults live life.

Squints awaits his destiny with lifeguard/angel Wendy Peffercorn

There will always be a place for kids who have crushes in cinema. If Squints kissing Wendy Peffercorn at the pool in The Sandlot isn’t one of most romantic scenes ever, I don’t know what is. Still, encouraging the archetype of the heartsick youngster wise beyond their years does a disservice to stories like Moonrise Kingdom by diminishing the credibility of young love.  Sam and Suzy are not any smarter than their ages, despite their demented sophistication and immaculate dancing skills. They are kids that love each other in the true way two children might.

Even if you hate the films of Wes Anderson, you have to admire the respect he has for his characters. They never compromise and always remain themselves, even in spite of occasionally preposterous circumstances. For Sam, he wants someone to protect, a role no one ever played on his behalf. That’s why when he asks Suzy what kind of bird she is, he doesn’t need the answer. He already knows. She’s his.


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  1. You’re right Christopher. I meant to acknowledge the bigger implications of that question aren’t answered. I’ll amend the piece. Thanks for reading!

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