With the release Wes Anderson’s seventh film, Moonrise Kingdom, imminent, Dennis Lim of The New York Times has drafted a nice little piece on the film. You can read the full article (and not incur the wrath of 10 free articles a month limitations) after the jump.
RECOUNTING the genesis of his new feature, “Moonrise Kingdom,” Wes Anderson sounded like he could be talking about any of his other movies. “The desire for fantasy to be real is part of the inspiration,” he said. From his 1996 debut, the shaggy-dog caper “Bottle Rocket,”to the animated Roald Dahl adaptation “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009), loss and longing have been the cornerstones of his films, which almost invariably concern the melancholic plight of dreamers and depressives, yearning for past glories, vanished innocence, a world that matches the one in their heads.
But Mr. Anderson would argue that there is at least one important difference with “Moonrise Kingdom,” which will open the Cannes Film Festival next week. (It is being released on May 25.) “This is the only time I’ve been consciously trying to capture a sensation, which is that emotion of when you’re a 12-year-old and you fall in love,” he said, speaking recently by phone from Paris, where he lives when he’s not in New York. “I remember that being such a powerful feeling, it was almost like going into a fantasy world. It’s stuck with me enough that I think about it still.”
With “Moonrise Kingdom” an auteur who often deals with — and is no less often accused of — arrested development, and whose obsessive style tends to be described in childlike terms (a dollhouse or model-train aesthetic), fully embraces the fevered, fragile perspective of childhood. Set in the summer of 1965 on a remote New England island, it’s the story of two alienated youngsters, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), who run away together. As the kids make their way through the wilderness and a hurricane bears down, a search party, including Suzy’s morose parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), Sam’s scout troop leader (Edward Norton) and the local sheriff (Bruce Willis), heads out after them.
Mr. Anderson wrote the film with one of his occasional collaborators, the director Roman Coppola. They had worked together on “The Darjeeling Limited” (2007), but that process involved a kind of role-playing. Each of the writers (who also included Jason Schwartzman) took charge of developing one of three brothers who are the focus of the film. For “Moonrise Kingdom” Mr. Coppola’s contribution took a different form. “Wes had images that were clearly a part of this piece, but they were kind of blocked up,” Mr. Coppola said. “My role was to help him find the story he had in his mind.”
“Moonrise Kingdom” abounds with carefully chosen autobiographical details and period signifiers. Like Sam, Mr. Anderson was briefly a Boy Scout, and the film’s affectionate, comic take on scouting situates it in a parallel version of Norman Rockwell’s once-upon-a-time America. Like Suzy he participated in a staging of “Noye’s Fludde,” the medieval play about Noah’s ark that Benjamin Britten set to music in the late ’50s and shortly thereafter became a staple of community productions.
Mr. Anderson wears his inspirations on his sleeve. For him and his characters alike the objects and objets d’art they love are not merely decorative references but also incarnations of passion, markers of identity. Suzy’s suitcase contains library books loosely modeled on the work of popular children’s authors like Madeleine L’Engle and Susan Cooper but all created from scratch. Each jacket was assigned to a different artist, and Mr. Anderson wrote a brief excerpt for each book.
He also had in mind other cinematic portrayals of childhood. “Small Change” (1976), by François Truffaut, a hero of Mr. Anderson’s, suggested the possibility of a film set “completely in the world of children,” he said. He discovered two lesser-known British movies, “Melody” (1971) and “Black Jack” (1979), both about smitten adolescents who resolve to get married, which he showed to his two young, first-time actors. The Maurice Pialat film “L’enfance nue” (1968), a bleaker version of Truffaut’s “400 Blows,” was also an influence; its protagonist, like Sam, is an orphan with nowhere to go. Similarly “Moonrise Kingdom” doesn’t shy from depicting adolescence as a time of bewilderment, anger and pain.
“I feel like most people’s experience of childhood has some darkness in it,” Mr. Anderson said. At one point Suzy shows Sam a pamphlet, “Coping With the Very Troubled Child,” she found on top of the refrigerator; the very same thing happened with Mr. Anderson. “I wasn’t the only child in the household, but I knew I was the one,” he said. “Now it makes me laugh, because it’s a funny thing to find, especially on top of the refrigerator. But it was a horrible feeling.”
Since “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” an elaborate big-budget production (and a commercial disappointment) Mr. Anderson’s films have become more intimate. “He likes making films on a big emotional scale, but I think he does not like feeling the scale of the filmmaking,” said Scott Rudin, who has produced all his features since “The Royal Tenenbaums.” “He’s the author of every frame of the film, he’s not a guy who wants any of it out of his immediate purview.”
While Mr. Anderson’s reputation rests on this famous fastidiousness, “Moonrise Kingdom,” his first feature to be shot on 16-millimeter film, also represents an attempt — much like the India-set “Darjeeling Limited” — to bring his controlled universe into contact with an element of disorder and to make expressive use of real-world locations. “Everything out in nature was more documentary,” Mr. Anderson said of his approach to the exterior scenes. (Much of the movie was shot on Conanicut Island in Narragansett Bay, R.I., though the stuck-in-time setting was inspired by Naushon, an island near Martha’s Vineyard accessible only by ferry.)
“With these last few films there’s been an invitation to have a bit of the unknown,” Mr. Coppola said. “The heart of ‘Moonrise’ are these scenes of the children off on adventure, the feeling of them exploring nature.”
The plan was to be “as low-tech as possible,” said the cinematographer Robert Yeoman, who has worked with Mr. Anderson since “Bottle Rocket.” “We used more natural light, and it was a bit more run and gun.” Not that Mr. Anderson has grown any less fond of his visual trademarks: symmetrical compositions, wide-angle shots, swish pans. “There are times he can’t help himself,” Mr. Yeoman said. “You could be standing on top of a mountain, and you’d still see some of the signature motifs. That’s just how Wes sees the world.”
At 43, with seven features to his name, Mr. Anderson has now endured several cycles of hype and backlash, by turns celebrated as a true original and dismissed as a one-note artist. (Disagreements along these lines erupted when the trailer for “Moonrise” appeared.) He acknowledged that he was dimly aware of the debate. “I feel like I’m polarizing to this small group of people who care one way or the other,” he said. “I don’t particularly make an effort to have a recognizable style. I’m usually making something up, not adapting something, so I’m going to end up working within my limitations.”
Mr. Rudin had a blunter take. “George Balanchine made X number of ballets around the same subject, and about 80 of them are among the greatest works of the 20th century,” he said. “Is anybody saying they’re too much alike?” In any case, Mr. Rudin added, there has been a progression in Mr. Anderson’s work, a new tough-mindedness in the recent movies. “I think he’s made the films harder, and I think they’re more emotional for being harder,” he said. “ ‘Moonrise’ is in some ways kind of a despairing movie, but it’s also unbelievably romantic.”
Mr. Anderson agreed that it is one of his more romantic works. As for the crush some 30 years ago that started it all, he said: “There’s nothing more to say about it, because nothing happened. It was completely my fantasy. She never even knew.”