Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s atmospheric paean to young love and island life. Every scene is perfectly colored, the script is strong, and the music is well-chosen, with selections from Hank Williams, Francoise Hardy, and Benjamin Britten. The performances from the young actors in the lead roles, as well as from the older stars Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman are near-perfect.
You can see, then, that I liked it. But I have a big caveat to offer before I can recommend it to anyone. Two kids, Sam and Suzy, on an island somewhere in autumnal New England fall in love and run away together. Their story is sweet and enjoyable to watch for the most part, but it features awkward, tentative intimacy between two very young adolescents. When I watched the movie for the second time at home, I just hit the fast forward button and moved on. But in the theater, I couldn’t. So I, along with the rest of the audience, laughed nervously as the mildly nauseating scene played out.
It’s a tricky subject. On one hand, it felt very uncomfortable to watch the scene, and I can see why other Christian reviewers trashed the movie based on that scene alone. It’s a parent’s nightmare: not just finding your child in flagrante delicto, but realizing that you, the parent, have failed to protect him from his own desires. I hope, God willing, never to experience it.
Sam and Suzy came from broken or breaking homes. Sam’s parents are dead and he’s been thrown out of his foster home, Suzy’s lawyer parents hate each other and her mother is having an affair with the island policemen. And that’s why the children run away together, instead of just beginning a romantic friendship.
The scene is neither unrealistic nor very creepy, but I wish with all my heart that it was gone, extinct, expunged. It means I can’t recommend the film wholeheartedly (and have I mentioned the many excellent bits?), and whenever I think about the soundtrack or the acting, I think of the awkwardly premature snogging session.
One reviewer pointed out that depicting something like this isn’t so very wrong in itself, but it sends quite a message. “We’re very cavalier and open about the sexuality of very young people.” It’s not something I would want broadcast to the world. It’s not as if, the reviewer pointed out, paedophilia is toothless or nonexistent. I can readily imagine Humbert Humbert, the infamous voyeur from Nabokov’s Lolita, enjoying himself at the film.
The depiction, then, is wrong not because what the characters are doing is so horrible, but rather because viewing something like this is dangerous. When it comes right down to it, there is limited artistic value to two twelve-year-olds in their underwear.
The movie would have been far better if Sam and Suzy had shared some variant of the “chaste first kiss” rather than clambering at each other awkwardly. There was, to be sure, a comedic value, but it came partly from the moral decrepitude of the scene. Like a zit on a good-looking face, it was slightly funny and more than a little uncomfortable.
Things like this really happen. Puberty leaves adolescents boiling over with hormones and powerful urges, and doesn’t provide an instruction manual. And just as a child might have nightmares and enduring phobias from watching a movie meant for adults, so it is with sex. The more sexual experimentation adolescents indulge in before they learn to deal with their desires, the more skewed and devalued their views of sex and their expectations of their partners become. I walked away from the film wishing, because I liked Sam and Suzy, that they had not gone nuclear with feelings and experiences that they couldn’t understand, in a way that will discolor their sexual experience forever. God gave us marriage as the place for sex for many reasons, one of them is that adolescent experimentation with the powerful forces involved in sex tend to ruin sexual well-being. I should know. I’ve been there. Sexual brokenness is the state into which I was born, just like Sam and Suzy. If I understand things better now, it is only thanks to my parents, pastors, and teachers, and the love that God gives freely to repentant sinners. Sexual guilt follows sexual confusion, but no sexual sin is too dark or too sordid to be washed away by the Cross.
I really do recommend Moonrise Kingdom. Watch the trailer: this is something special and unique, a jewel-box of a film and a treat. Watch the movie. It makes me want to bring Christ’s love to the sad, broken, beautiful people in the world whose stories the movie unwittingly tells.
One review pointed out the sad truth: “Here is every Wes Anderson film in a nutshell: children act like adults, and adults act like children.”