The year is 1965, and the residents of New Penzance, an island off the coast of New England, inhabit a community that seems untouched by some of the bad things going on in the rest of the world. Twelve-year-olds Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) have fallen in love and decide to run away. But a violent storm is approaching the island, forcing a group of quirky adults (Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray) to mobilize a search party and find the youths before calamity strikes.
Audiences have certain expectations when seeing a film which may be dependent on their understanding of genre conventions, actors or directors. Wes Anderson, an American film director, uses a recurring ensemble of actors in his films including Bill Murry, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman. He is well known for quirky, comical movies with flawed characters such as The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited. Anderson’s brand of awkward and sometimes sad comedy is remarkably unique.
Watch the opening sequence of Moonrise Kingdom. Does this sequence have characteristics that are typical of a Wes Anderson movie? What are your expectations of the film; i.e; what do you think will happen next? Consider the genre (comedy, adventure, drama) in your response.
Analysing the Opening Sequence
Wes Anderson can be described as a film auteur – a filmmaker whose individual style and complete control over the elements of production give him a unique and personal stamp. His work is instantly identifiable – the camera techniques are precise and calculated, the mise en scene & visual composition is often symmetric, orderly and reminiscent of Norman Rockwell painting. Familiar actors, flawed characters and themes of love and loss are all part of Anderson’s film-making equation. Moonrise Kingdom (2012) is no exception.
Anderson’s unique and creative brand of film-making becomes immediately apparent in an opening sequence of Moonrise Kingdom (2012). The first shot is of a woven tapestry of a red house on the sea – the camera then eases into a steady and precise tracking shot which reveals the setting; an dimly lit house occupied by three young boys listening to Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra on a phonograph. The mis en scene is orderly and symmetric – a typical and familiar characteristic of Anderson’s movies. The camera abruptly pans 180 degrees to reveal a young girl, Suzy, who claims ownership of a pair of binoculars before laying on the window sill to read a book. Suzy then turns, peels back the curtains and peers out the window with her binoculars. Britten’s orchestral music suddenly increases in volume as the camera quickly zooms back to reveal the exterior of the house which overlooks the ocean. The san serif, decretive typeface of the film’s title is suddenly revealed in dramatic fashion. Anderson continues to use tracking shots to reveal more of the interior and the people that inhabit it. The three young boys actively play games together, whilst the parents engage in their own individual activities – as if to have nothing to do with each other. Suzy stands alone – a solitary figure in a room studying the outer world through her binoculars.
In a brief moment, on a sunny day, Suzy collects a personal letter from the mailbox. She walks to the nearby bus shelter with her binoculars wrapped around her neck holding a large shoe-box labelled ‘important’. With here monotone, emotionless voice, she reads the letter and glares directly into the camera – the percussion instruments and bassoons from Britten’s score sing loudly than ever before as the camera zooms back bringing the opening sequence to a climactic end.
The opening sequence functions to establish the Bishop family – in particular the character Suzy; an inquisitive, misunderstood young girl who appears to dissociate and isolate herself from her family. Furthermore, Anderson establishes the setting; an isolate house located on the remote Island of Penzance.