2018 Tarkovsky Award Honorable Mention: Esme Cohen
Esme Cohen (Lowell High School)
MOONRISE KINGDOM and Yellow-Tinted Love
Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom opens on a record player in a yellow-walled house as it rains; a long, elegant shot that ends with a the tableau of the Bishop siblings, Suzy framed by a white window, reading a book. I had the privilege of seeing this gorgeous shot three times, as SF Film and Art was having technical difficulties at the time. But what would seem as a nuisance or annoyance to some was quite the opposite to me; indeed, this is not an essay penned to complain. This is an essay penned to praise the brilliance of Moonrise Kingdom, and the beauty of its yellow-tinted portrayal of love.
Surely to the distress of my fellow viewers, I gasped as the music started, in awe of Anderson’s ability to create such vivid worlds. It was by the second pan across the yellow walls that I knew I was in love. A long time advocat of Anderson’s works, I was enamored long before the green hat clad naturalist imparted bits of (fictional) island trivia; long before Suzy carried a cat and a suitcase full of books as her necessities; long before a sad dumb cop shared a beer with an orphan who has stuck his finger in the proverbial electrical socket. All it took was a pair of strikingly sunshine walls and a record player. However, it is not to be forgotten that the beauty of the film goes beyond sunshine tinted set design. It is Anderson’s multidimensional, layered portrait of love—also yellow—that deserves the most praise.
I later apologized for the gasping.
Following the opening shot that I was so enamored by, an aforementioned man wearing a red coat and a forest green beanie appears, in the bottom of the frame. Similar to documentary elements frequently utilized in Anderson’s films ( Steve Zissou comes to mind), Moonrise Kingdom’ s nameless naturalist pops in occasionally to provide helpful, story-driving tidbits on our fictional island. He furnishes foreshadowing: in three days time, a hurricane is to hit. He also provides a tone of spontaneity and the genuine—reality in Anderson’s escape from it—which serves as the backdrop against which two twelve year olds will fall in love.
The way in which Wes Anderson orchestrates the romance of Sam and Suzy proves that it is not just the yellow walls that support the film. At its center is a love between a boy who snuck into a girl’s dressing room and a raven who punched herself in the mirror. As the movie continues what seemed comical—two children running away together claiming love strikes most as funny—becomes a representation of all that is good about love. Overlooking their moonrise kingdom, Sam and Suzy portray all of the best parts. They share vulnerabilities and dreams. They stab those who threaten the other with lefty scissors if its called for. They go back for the things they recognize are important. Surrounded by patches of yellow, time and time again they demonstrate what it is to be there for someone—to love someone. Suzy and Sam, surrounded by loves gone wrong, show through their seemingly silly tweenmance why people fight to find their own moonrise kingdoms with the ones they love.
But for the romantic Anderson seems to be—infusing each scene with a care and an attention to detail that can only be explained by a desire to show the delicacy, the good—never does he forgo the darker aspect. While Sam and Suzy’s romance as twelve year olds demonstrates the beauty of love one (yellow tinted) scene after another another, juxtaposed is the crumbling and dysfunctional—yet still strangely beautiful—relationships of the true adults. Wes Anderson does not hide the fears and threats that accompany such love, and the film's most emotion-heavy moments may in fact be the moments where the dreary, behind-the-curtain facets of love are pulled forward. Daggers of reality amongst fantasy are frequently contrasted (think Richie’s attempted suicide in The Royal Tenenbaums or the train stop in The Grand Budapest Hotel ) in Anderson’s films, and in Moonrise it is the broken nature of the surrounding loves that makes Suzy and Sam’s stand out so vibrantly. In one brilliant scene, storm just beginning, “counselor” and “counselor” lay in separate beds and discuss cases with cold tones, eyes to the ceiling, walls blue.
Throughout the film we see adults longing for the simplicity of childhood, more lost and confused that the driven youth that surround them. With incredibly strong performances by so many reputable actors, adults blunder through love as Suzy and Sam march with certainty and determination, and Wes Anderson uses these supposed role models to remind the audience of obstacles love so frequently faces. Another pivotal moment is framed by the roar of Bill Murray’s father character as he wretches the flimsy (yellow) tent of our protagonists, reminding us of what they have to overcome, of the Romeo-and-Juliet nature of their relationship that it so frequently faces. Yet another is in the bathroom (walls blue) where the mother bathes the daughter she struggles to understand. All of these scenes display love at its worst, love at its most complicated and confusing. In the bathtub Suzy declares of Sam “We want to be together. What’s so wrong with that?” and it is Laura Bishop’s complicated and incredibly strong love for her daughter that forced Suzy to ask.
Right before the film closes the viewer is gifted with another shot of that yellow room, the lighting altered slightly so that yellow walls aren’t quite as yellow. Perhaps the whole ordeal has slightly dampened the whimsy, changing perspectives on love a tinge towards the darker side. After all, with a biblical air, the island has flooded, a storm roared. It may be over—the crops may be better than ever—but that is not to say that things haven’t changed. The kitten has grown to a cat, and the impulsive gorgeous beginning love has lessened ever so slightly. But it isn’t gone. Suzy’s dress is as yellow as the walls ever were, and that struck-by-lightning, flash-flood feeling--the sort that makes people fly coops and jump without looking down--that remains.
I walked away from the theater longing to re-watch every film Wes Anderson had ever created, find my own moonrise kingdom, and paint the walls of my room yellow.