With six features under his belt (and a seventh on the way), Wes Anderson is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive filmmakers working today. His influences are varied -- from Martin Scorsese to Satyajit Ray, French pop to the British Invasion -- but the way in which he combines those elements (and more) is unmistakably Andersonian. Though each of his films has pushed the limits of his talents, his stylistic tics are now so easily recognizable that his work can be identified usually with a single (artfully composed) frame. This is why his movies have been parodied so easily and frequently, and why the filmmaker has as many fans as detractors. And interestingly, it’s hard to pick out a single highlight or low point in his filmography without entering some intense debate. For all those that find his debut “Bottle Rocket” his finest achievement, there are just as many who hold “Rushmore” or “The Royal Tenenbaums” as pinnacles of his skill. While many think that “The Life Aquatic” and “The Darjeeling Limited” are more mixed affairs, others insist the director was just beginning to hit his stride. And seemingly everyone was charmed by his last project, the stop-motion animated Roald Dahl adaptation of “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” except curiously this writer, who thought it was probably his weakest film to date.
It’s been five years since Anderson’s last live action film, so anticipation was running high for a follow-up. Set in 1960s New England, “Moonrise Kingdom” follows a young boy (Jared Gilman) and young girl (Kara Hayward) who fall in love and run away together, turning their small town upside down in the process. Anderson’s first period piece, the film puts together perhaps his starriest ensemble since ‘Tenenbaums,’ featuring Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel. Set for a May 25th release, the trailer finally landed last week and the reaction was predictably divided. Most people seemed to love it, but there were some of the usual grumbles that it looked like more of the same from the idiosyncratic filmmaker. There are without question certain patterns running through his work, so we wanted to do a little bit of a deeper dive into the trailer to look at some of the recurring motifs as well as the ways that ‘Moonrise’ looks to break beyond what we’ve seen from the filmmaker before.
Co-written with Roman Coppola (“CQ”), Anderson has been entwined with the Coppola clan since casting Jason Schwartzman in “Rushmore” 14 years ago. Like Anderson’s previous writing partners -- Owen Wilson, who co-wrote Anderson’s first three features and Noah Baumbach, who co-scripted “The Life Aquatic” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” - Coppola and Anderson have found kindred spirits in each other as creative collaborators. The pair co-wrote Anderson’s last live-action film “The Darjeeling Limited” (along with Schwartzman) where Coppola also served as a producer and shot 2nd unit photography which he had done previously on “The Life Aquatic.” Anderson worked with Coppola again casting him in "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" as well as the commercial he directed and starred in for American Express. The pair also co-directed a '60s-set ad for Stella Artois, and Coppola has cast Anderson regular Bill Murray in his upcoming directorial effort, “A Glimpse Inside The Mind of Charles Swan III.”
Schwartzman, who was initially not at all what Anderson and Wilson had in mind for the lead in “Rushmore” (they had initially imagined a young Mick Jagger), has become an essential part of the Anderson universe. The actor went on to star in four of Anderson’s films including ‘Moonrise,’ his “Hotel Chevalier” short and for extra credit appeared in both of his cousin Roman’s films. To take his Coppola fixation even further, the characters in ‘Darjeeling,’ Francis, Peter and Jack are supposedly named after Coppola, Bogdanovich and Nicholson who were all friendly in the late '60s while making movies for Roger Corman. Anderson also staged the final scene of “The Life Aquatic” in homage to a picture of Francis and Sofia at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979, and the writer featured in his AMEX commercial bears more than a passing resemblance to “The Godfather” director in his younger days. Interestingly, ‘Moonrise’ lead Jared Gilman looks like he could be a member of the Coppola clan or at the very least related to Max Fischer.
Like many of the great filmmakers, there are certain hallmarks in Anderson’s work and obsessions that the filmmaker can be seen returning to again and again, perhaps without even realizing it. Characters with father issues appear frequently, though the director isn’t quite sure where that originates since he apparently has a great relationship with his own father. While there don’t seem to be any “bad dads” present in ‘Moonrise,’ there are a number of recurring elements from his prior films, “The Royal Tenenbaums” in particular.
In “The Royal Tenenbaums,” young Margot Tenenbaum stages a play where the young actors are dressed as animals, and in “Moonrise Kingdom” Suzy is in a play where the young actors are dressed as birds. ‘Tenenbaums’ also featured a hawk named Mordecai (though originally the part was written for Jason Schwartzman).
Kids running away
In “The Royal Tenanbaums,” young Margot and Richie Tenenbaum run away at the beginning of the film, hiding out in the Museum of Natural History. In “Moonrise Kingdom,” Sam and Suzy run away together on New Penzance Island. It should also be noted that the island featured in ‘Moonrise’ bears a certain resemblance to Eagle’s Island in ‘Tenenbaums.’
Exchanging letters has been a prominent device featured in nearly all of Anderson's films. While the context is occasionally love letters, as it is most recently, they've been a critical narrative device throughout his filmography. "Bottle Rocket" features Anthony writing letters to his sister Grace who believes he's a failure while “The Royal Tenenbaums” features Richie Tenenbaum writing letters to his best friend Eli Cash to confess his love of his adopted sister Margot. "Rushmore" features an exchange of letters between Max Fischer and his former best friend Dirk Calloway, and in "The Life Aquatic," Ned writes fan letters to his idol Steve Zissou. The mother in "The Darjeeling Limited" writes several letters to her three boys, first warning them not to come visit her and later to inform them that she's left them. In “Moonrise Kingdom” Sam and Suzy write each other letters to hatch their escape plan. Richie Tenenbaum paints countless tributes to his sister Margot in ‘Tenenbaums’ but “failed to develop as a painter,” while in ‘Moonrise’ Sam does watercolors, “mostly landscapes but a few nudes.” Much of the artwork in Anderson’s films over the years (including all of Richie’s paintings) has been provided by Anderson’s brother, Eric Chase Anderson. He’s also made cameos in several of his brother's films including “Rushmore,” 'Tenenbaums' and “The Life Aquatic.” He can be seen briefly in the ‘Moonrise’ trailer standing next to Edward Norton in the rain with an exasperated look on his face.
In “The Royal Tenenbaums” Richie sleeps in a tent in in the family’s den. In “Moonrise Kingdom” Sam evades his boy scout troup by escaping through a hatch in his tent. Margot Tenenbaum’s record player is featured prominently several times in 'Tenenbaums' as well as during Sam and Suzy’s escapade in 'Moonrise.'
Possibly the greatest staple of all of Anderson’s films (save “Bottle Rocket”) is Bill Murray himself, who appears once again here as Suzy's father, alongside Frances McDormand's concerned mother, and unsurprisingly gives one of the trailer’s best line readings.
Slow Motion Endings
Every one of Anderson’s live action films features an slow motion ending set to a pop song. While there’s no telling if this is the ending to the film, the trailer ends on this note with Sam and Suzy exiting a church hand in hand.
Though more associated with British Invasion tunes from The Kinks to Creation, Anderson has peppered his soundtracks with the occasional songs from French crooners like Yves Montand on “Rushmore” and Joe Dassin (an American known for his French songs like "Champs-Élysées") in “The Darjeeling Limited.” The trailer for ‘Moonrise’ is set to another French pop song, “Le Temps de L'amour” by Francoise Hardy, a French singer/actress. The English translation of the song is “Time to Love” and features the lyrics, “It's time to love, Time for friends and adventure. When the time comes and goes, Can not think of anything despite his injuries. For the love of time It is a long and short It lasts forever, it will be remembered,” which seems to be a pretty good match for the youthful romance of the clip.
A Brand New Font
Perhaps one of the most distinctive and easily identifiable elements of his films is the omnipresence of the Futura font. Used on buildings, signs, title cards and generally the posters themselves, it’s been a somewhat integral part of the Anderson universe. Though "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" strayed from this with a somewhat similar looking yellow Helvetica Extra Bold, the previous two used a yellow modified Futura font for their title sequence. Here the filmmaker looks to have strayed even further from the famous typeface for a nice custom script by designer Jessica Hische.
That Anderson has owed a great deal in mood and aesthetic to the French New Wave is no surprise (his Amex ads in particular are huge homages to Francois Truffaut and "Day For Night"). This time around, the trailer does immediately bring to mind the tenor and style of Jean-Luc Godard's "Le Pierrot Fou" (itself an ode to American movies). That film also concerns two young lovers on the run, and their array of random adventures and encounters (and it should be noted, part of their journey involves time on a deserted island). And we wonder, with Anderson pitching his story around two children, if there is not also some small debt to one the quintessential New York movies, 1953's "Little Fugitive." That film tells the tale of a little boy who runs away to Coney Island after he thinks he killed his brother. Where will 'Moonrise' draw its influence from? Only Anderson knows for sure, but these are good places to start.
Because Anderson's films so far are set in a present day that only exists in his imagination -- filled with characters stuck in the past and settings that only really work in this stylized universe -- many might be surprised to find out that yes, "Moonrise Kingdom" is in fact, a period film. Set in the 1960s, this will be Anderson's first foray into setting a film in a decade other than his own and the change seems to be suiting him just fine. After dipping his toe into the water with vintage soundtrack selections, film homages and wardrobe choices over the years, it makes perfect sense to see him bringing his sensibilities to the '60s where the choices just seem to make a bit more sense, frankly. We kinda loved seeing the greasers outside Sam's bunker and hope there will be more of these era-specific touches in the finished film.
Anderson is nothing if not meticulous, and often packs each frame of his films with incredible details, to the point that his detractors accuse him of being more concerned about the production design than the characters. But from the looks of his latest film, he's getting more and more adventurous with his compositions. Collaborating for the 6th time with longtime DP Robert Yeoman (who's shot all of his live-action features) the duo seem to be venturing further into the surreal with several shots that wouldn't have seemed out of place in "The Fantastic Mr. Fox." This confidence makes it clear that his detractors have done nothing to sway him from doing exactly what he wants to do, even if that means putting reality aside to make something more interesting.
Perhaps the most exciting and interesting part of the new trailer, and incidently something that most people might not have picked up on the first time through, is the presence of religious overtones throughout. Prior to last week, the only things really known about this project were the cast, '60s setting and vague synopsis of two young children running away, turning their town upside down. It appears that these two kids are rebelling against the uptight morals of their community and run away to listen to pop records, paint, and live generally as bohemians. Look closely at the trailer and you'll see a doghouse on fire with the words "PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD" scrawled on the rocks nearby, as well as a religious play and mini-church that the two kids can be seen exiting at the end of the clip. Since Anderson's characters are generally facing internal struggles more than external forces, this clash of ideals could give the filmmaker some fresh ground to explore here. All in all, as you could probably tell, we're pretty excited about the whole thing and will be interested to see how the film turns out when it opens May 25th.