Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – Apocalypse Scout

Synopsis: A pair of 12 year old lovers flee their New England island town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them, including their scout leader (Ed Norton), the local Police Officer (Bruce Willis) and the girls parents (Bill Murray & Frances McDormand).

My Take

You may think you’ve seen Moonrise Kingdom before. If you ever seen a movie about forbidden love, if you’ve ever seen a movie about a man living off the land and his wits, if you’ve ever seen a movie about good men trying to find redemption then in essence you have seen Moonrise Kingdom. Except this is Wes Anderson territory you’re in now.

Until you’ve seen Wes Anderson tell a story of a young couple trying to run from a society who don’t understand their forbidden love, living on their toes and the land, chased by those that want to stop them and those that want to save them then you’ll not have seen anything like Moonrise Kingdom.


Moonrise Kingdom follows two young lovers, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), as they try and escape their respective personal problems. For Sam it is the fact he is orphaned and doesn’t want to return to his foster family, whom it turns out don’t want him back either. For Suzy it is the fact that she can’t stand the dynamics of her family. Both children suffer from the same problem; no-one gets them but each other. You get the sense there is a lot of Anderson’s childhood in both.

As they make their way into the wilderness of the New England island they inhabit, Sam and Suzy are chased down by a horseless cavalcade of sad adults. Sam is pursued by his well meaning, but slightly hapless Scout Master Ward (Ed Norton), and the nefarious Social Services (Tilda Swinton). Suzy is pursued by her parents (Bill Murray looking worryingly old and grey, and Frances McDormand), and the Island’s only Policeman Captain Sharp (a brilliantly put upon, doughy Bruce Willis). Sam uses all of his scouting know how to track the land, hiding his canoe, building fires and making rudimentary pulley systems. Suzy reads to him as they lay under the stars by their makeshift camp.

From the opening shot you know you’re watching a Wes Anderson movie. His trademark square on close-ups of important items and faces are all there. The opening couple of minutes introduce us to an A-typical Anderson family: large idiosyncratic house; strange upper-middle class broken strained family dynamic;  one child evidently troubled under the weight of their own genius. The best way to describe it is The Royal Tenenbaums  circa 1965. In fact the whole thing feels like Tenenbaums filtered through Life Aquatic in terms of tone.

The beauty of Moonrise Kingdom is Anderson has taken a story that we have seen a thousand times before and filtered it through the eyes of a child playing make believe. If the characters were 15 years older Sam would be an AWOL Marine, Suzy would be a local girl he is trying to save from an oppressive family. They would be chased through jungles by the CIA and local militia rather than the local Police Officer and a soft hearted Scout Leader.

Anderson has a couple of regulars in Schwartzman and Murray but otherwise this is a new cast. Working with him is not for everyone and Gene Hackman was notoriously hard to work with on The Royal Tannenbaums because he couldn’t get comfortable with the working atmosphere on set. By all accounts Anderson’s working environments are highly reflective of the creative and idiosyncratic nature of his movies. While Bruce Willis seems pretty amenable to any environment, Ed Norton could have been difficult. But his performance shows a level of comfort that suggests he let himself get immersed in the Anderson culture.

None of them could believe Anderson was serious about doing his impression of Puppetry of the Penis until he started...

None of them could believe Anderson was serious about doing his impression of Puppetry of the Penis until he started…

The most praise though has to go to the two young leads Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, both of whom had hardly acted before. Admittedly neither’s performance is an accomplished child acting job like a Dakota Sister performance. But they are believable as the vulnerable, lost children living beyond the constraints of their short years. Anderson’s style of writing and directing doesn’t require polished performances and in fact some of the stilted and monotone deliveries add to the charm of the movie.

Most 12 year olds don’t talk like 30 year olds. They talk like 12 year olds. In Moonrise Kingdom the children don’t act like adults. They act like children trying to act like adults.

Conclusion: Moonrise Kingdom is short and sweet, in the fullest sense of both words. At 89 minutes it feels like it breezes past you. One of Anderson’s best, up there with Rushmore.

Verdict: 9/10 – Go and see this immediately (unless you hate Wes Anderson movies)


Director/Writer: Wes Anderson – Few do idiosyncratic quite like him, though many have tried. Hit a high watermark with Rushmore which he has been trying to live up to ever since. Even when he falls short what he produces is better than most others efforts.

Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban


  • The film opened in only four theatres  two in New York and two in Los Angeles, but earned $167,250 per screen, the all-time record for highest per-theatre box office average of a non-animated film.
  • Most of Wes Anderson‘s classmates who were Scouts were in Troop 55.
  • Before filming, neither Kara Hayward nor Jared Gilman had ever seen a typewriter in person. Hayward later said, “Fran (Frances McDormand) had a lot of fun with that. She couldn’t believe it. She showed me that the keys are in the same place as now (on computers).”

Currently streaming on SkyMovies, Amazon Prime and Netflix US


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