If you’re a troubled young adult in a Wes Anderson movie and live on an idyllic island in the sixties in what appears to be some kind of lighthouse, to where would you run if you felt misunderstood and under-appreciated in your family? Well, if you’re watching “Moonrise Kingdom” and grew up, like me, in a regular house in New England suburbia, you might consider this question beside the point. What 12-year-old would really be upset if they were told that they could live on an island with plenty of boating, swimming, fishing and wilderness, as long as they had access to certain decade specific comforts? But if you were trapped with three younger brothers who enjoy the music of Benjamin Britten, your mom (Frances McDormand) was having an affair, and your father was none other than Bill Murray wearing plaid pants and equally clueless, this might seem a good idea. Such is the plight of Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), who longs to be reunited with her pen pal (Jared Gilman), an orphan she met during a play performance the preceding summer. As they have kept in passionate touch via the US Postal Service, and he’s not that popular with the other Scouts, Jared is equally eager to see her, and so an escape plan is hatched.
The movie is chock full of symbolism starting with Kara’s binoculars and continuing with a myriad of symbols that should thrill any English teacher. Jared, who is a member of the Khaki Scouts (I guess they didn’t want a lawsuit from the actual Boy Scouts) and staying at a camp, brings the survival camping stuff, while Kara totes along her cat, enough food for it, her brothers’ (battery operated) record player, novels about orphans and yes, the binoculars. Kara, though she has issues with her family, does have a very different perspective on the concept of orphanhood than Jared, whose mother is deceased and whose foster family wishes to return him to Social Services (as embodied by Tilda Swinton). But the two are clearly soul mates, so it’s easy to root for them when they take off, leaving a host of clueless adults behind including Bill and Frances, Jared’s scoutmaster Edward Norton, and police chief Bruce Willis. Tilda wants to return Jared to a juvenile care facility which will give him electroshock (perhaps the fact that he starts fires while sleepwalking might have something to do with it), and is the most adult of the group (which isn’t saying a great deal), so the stakes are high. As Bill and Frances seem only vaguely aware they have a daughter, one might think that putting Kara in the care of Social Services might be a good thing too, but that would be another movie altogether.
Edward’s Khaki Scouts (referred to by Bill as “the beige lunatics” with good reason) attempt to track down Jared and retrieve him, a standoff involving lefty scissors and a dog which does not meet a happy end. However, after Jared is taken into custody by Bruce, and Kara is retrieved by her family (it’s possible her brothers are happier to see the record player than her), the Scouts have a change of heart and decide to help the two reunite. This involves Jason Schwartzman who runs another scout camp and has the power to marry the two teens, although not in a binding legal sense. After explaining that he was in a movie called “Rushmore” when they were toddlers so that explains the chuckles of recognition from the viewers, he does the deed. Then it’s back to more symbolism when the two take refuge in a steeple, and Jared gets Mother Nature’s version of electroshock treatment. But it all ends well, with Bruce given (I think) permanent custody of Jared, and the two allowed to see each other when they want. The characters spend a lot of time drifting around like patterns on a screensaver, occasionally interacting, but it works if you like those sorts of quirky films.