Beach dance in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom


Dance+: Moonrise Kingdom

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Liminal territory: the seaside hideaway in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom
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In Wes Anderson’s 2012 film, two runaway pre-teens dance on the empty beach of an unknown land called love

Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012) isn’t only a film about a childhood Eden, but also an ode to pure, unconditional love, free of the possessive disorders that indelibly mark our adult relationships. The film, typical of Anderson’s ‘technique’ of cabinets des curiosités – that is, a macrocosm mirrored whimsically in a microcosm – is set around the romantic adventures of two twelve-year-old runaways, who remind us of the troubled awakenings that usually come with our adolescence. And if age could grace us with wisdom, then it is with Moonrise Kingdom that we discover the pleasure of returning wholeheartedly to the unfamiliarity of first love.

The movie is set in ‘New Penzance’, a remote terra incognita which, however, recalls so many pre-teen movies centred in small towns – here ‘small’ is intended both in scale but also in relation to the world within the world, as masterfully stylised by Anderson. Our heroes, Sam and Suzy, an odd couple indeed, carefully plot their getaway while exchanging love letters secretly. They are not your typical sweethearts: he, an orphan boy with glasses in a scout uniform, wearing his mother’s pin instead of the usual accomplishment buttons and she, an adventurous spirit and avid book reader, matching her pink dress with a pair of binoculars. Both bear visible wounds of their troubled relationship with the adult world or, maybe, these are just marks that help them identify with each other. And most certainly, they are looking for love; not any kind of love, but the one that could give its name to a place that they might call their ‘land’.

Runaways dance to ‘Le temps de l’amour’ in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom

One of the most achingly poignant scenes of the film is when the two, safe in their idyllic seaside hideaway, cherish the overwhelming newness of first love and dance in their underwear. Françoise Hardy’s ‘Le temps de l’amour’ coming out of the battery-powered phonograph is the ideal soundtrack to this short but emotionally giddy scene. Both are temperate in their swaying before the boy starts splurting his arms; out of synch but in tune with his feelings, he shows how clumsy our attempts to get closer can be. Having demonstrated his eccentric moves, Sam hurries to take Suzy in his arms, only to kiss her a few seconds later. They still learn, but they learn together: their tongues touch in kissing just as their bodies touch in dancing. Softly – yet the taste of the first kiss could be as bizarre as the taste of the first dance with the one you love. Lasting a moment, enchanting for a lifetime.

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Our memories are not representations of the past but how we give new life to experiences that have shaped who we are now

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Suzy encourages him to touch her chest – their barely teenage bodies are a far cry from the carnal robust lust that is traced in adult coupling. His hands placed gently on her breasts, there’s still no metaphor in sensing each other: their gestures are so emphatically pure, as they are felt matter-of-factly. Anderson purposely keeps this scene short but dense, highlighting the fleeting moment in some over-the-shoulder angles, alternating views, merging sensations, letting us glimpse that primary and unique sharing before it is cut sharply back into the narration of the film.

Just as in the parting shot of the film, we realise that our memories are not representations of the past but how we give new life to experiences that have shaped who we are now. Moonrise Kingdom is about that haven – ‘when time comes and goes’, as the song has it – and how we still aim for that first enchantment despite our injuries. 

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