Is eccentricity a cry for attention, or is it the spark of imagination that keeps civilization alive? I suppose that depends upon whether the eccentric imagines something useful.
Wes Anderson has always been a useful eccentric, making films that invite us to think about the quagmire of existence. Is life truly as somber and recondite as it seems to be? Are pleasure and joy really so hard to come by? Do we have to fabricate our own worlds to survive? To Anderson, it would seem so.
Set in 1965, on an island off the coast of New England that hosts summer camps for boys, Moonrise Kingdom feels more like it's set in no real time or place. It revolves around Sam (Jared Gilman), a weird, friendless camper, and Suzy (Kara Hayward), the depressed friendless oldest child of two island attorneys (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand). They meet, click and run away together, thus provoking an adventure that troubles, perplexes and challenges the sheriff (Bruce Willis), a scoutmaster (Edward Norton) and a woman from Social Services (Tilda Swinton).
Moonrise Kingdom brims with metaphor, but the most important one is Anderson's notion that life is art, and very vice versa. His characters deadpan their personalities, and yet, he sees no sense in living without a rampant joie de vivre — or perhaps, in his case, maladie de vivre. Every scene in his film resonates with an awkward humanity, even though his characters seem like pawns in a modern parable (hence the diluvian ending). The film has a sort of narrator: Bob Balaban, dressed in a red overcoat and green ski cap that makes him look like an elf trying to disguise himself as a human.
When was the last time we saw an American comedy with a stabbing (using left-handed scissors), a dog shot dead by an arrow and pre-teen self-mutilation ("I got hit in the mirror," Suzy says, explaining her bandage, in one of the script's most beguiling choices of words)? And then there's the scene where the 12-year-old boy touches his 12-year-old girlfriend's breasts, and she acknowledges his erection.
The adult actors (even the usually taut Swinton) get Anderson's impassive rhythms just right, but how did he teach his child actors to do it? How do they understand a complex work like this? His ending is upbeat, and that may be his point: With a little eccentricity, there's hope for us yet.