Moonrise Kingdom and Voyeurism (some thoughts)

by pinstripeowl

When last up in the ford of Oxen, I finally got to see a film at the Ultimate Picture Palace, a lovely small cinema that I’ve got to explore more, as it is warm, friendly and seems to key into a more antiquated film experience, which in some ways was appropriate given that the film, Wes Anderson‘s Moonrise Kingdomwas set in 1965 in a remote New England island.


The colours were beautiful: vivid and pure saturation, and of course it was shot excellently. I had initially been wary of seeing it, mainly due to being bored during The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, also my enduring feelings about hipsters (which are to hit them with sticks). But this aside, it was good to see at not-exorbitant prices, *though* some of the interactions between the central child actors made me want to die while watching them.

I understand Anderson’s attraction to making adults act like children and children grown up and serious, and the inherent whimsy and true-to-life-ness that this often has, but I don’t feel the need to watch two twelve year olds undress and awkwardly snog. I kept seeing them (perhaps unfairly) as Sally and Glen from Mad Men in my head was another jarring aside, but this seems to be a personal association. But yeah, their love story: of initial attraction of two children who don’t seem to fit in with their peers/siblings and decide to run away together is something the audience watching can key into as nostalgic escapism. But, as is so often, it is the gaze in which lies the problem. Can a film do justice to early sexuality? Is the medium so inherently based on voyeurism that it is impossible to explore without being so bodily removed from the play of the characters?

“Leave it to Wes Anderson to turn… half-naked children groping at each other, bleeding, talking about hard-ons—into something that feels at once playful, tasteful, and bracingly real.” – Asawin Suebsaeng @ Mother Jones.

No one is doubting the truth of the scene. Truly, the interest in one another’s bodies and the awkward exploration is ‘honest’, and true to their respective ages.

When reading around for this post, I came across a comment on a review that also keyed into some of my thoughts on the film:

“I totally agree that it was a relatively “honest” depiction of that kind of thing, but the question becomes whether or not we need a visual depiction of it… if it’s a movie for adults, then it is (actual…) children pushing boners into each other for adult eyes… This isn’t a particularly subversive paragraph in Bridge to Tarabithia or whatever. This is fetishized childhood for people who haven’t been children in decades.”

The first part, I’m not going to address. If things were only made due to need, then where would we be? Well, function and form would become more intrinsically linked which may please the more Marxist of artist craftspeople and that could be interesting, but beside the point! The audience of a Wes Anderson film is never going to be a young audience seeing their own lives: it is an audience of escapists, of those after the Peanuts-esque childhood with adults that have their foibles exaggerated like a caricatured chin.

“Didn’t you ever snog a boy or girl at that age?” a friend asked, after the film. Beside the point.

The film is made to key into our, the viewers’, childhoods, using characters as avatars. However, unlike book characters, where relating to character experiences can be easier due to not being so bodily excluded from the scene, Moonrise Kingdom just felt voyeuristic. The awkwardness of the character interactions, much like in Life Aquatic, is made more so because of the inherent voyeurism of the camera, which is unrepentant and cold in its pans. Perhaps I would have felt less like an intruder in their world if the camera had been more sentient. Perhaps that’s the point. I certainly am not arguing for cinema not to make you uncomfortable, but there are things perhaps to be unpacked further.

I said earlier that perhaps film was a bad medium to access such things. Maybe given the business surrounding it, it’s harder. Television is a better way to talk to younger audiences, and I think Skins is probably a good example. It caused such havoc when it started, as a brash, youthful take on sex, drugs and youth. But it spoke to the teens that age, so much so that I’d argue that with each iteration and new cast, it loses its older audience to gain a new one, reaching that point and having its own, current issues.

Final thought, which is in no way a conclusion, but a petering out of time before the wrong side of dawn

“The film… has a rapt quality, as if we are viewing the events through Suzy’s binoculars or reading the story under the covers by a flashlight.” –  Kristin M Jones @ Film Comment

I quote this because I like the idea of the ubiquitous binoculars serving as a focus. It could have been more awkward, if the adults searching for the runaways had character internal character development, or at least, a less shallow one: some of the adults do identify with the children – notably the policeman, played well by Bruce Willis, who is having a messy affair with Suzy’s mother. The un-comfort of the adults finding the children in flagrante (ish) could have worked to counterpoint the natural desires of the children. But the audience, I feel, is meant to relate to the mature (and yet inexperienced) children, laughing at the folly of adults. Which I can get behind, but still, thoughts. Hm.

I’d definitely be happy to discuss it more and this post is mainly a way for me to gather thoughts together. If you’ve opinions, feel free to share in the comments below.

Suzy Bishop & her binoculars.