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Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom is a tasty escape into an ordinary-magical world of a quirky bunch of pre-teens and their families in 1965. The film is highly-stylized, deeply amusing, and incredibly well-cast. The always unexpected writer-director Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox) gives us a more-deadpan-than-“Napoleon Dynamite” romantic comedy. Involving twelve year olds.

Set on the New England coast, two precocious, oddball pre-teens find each other, and it’s love at first sight. So, what else should they do but elope? The boy (Sam) is a “Khaki Scout,” the girl (Suzy), a binocular-wielding reader of fantasy books. They are barely beyond the boys-are-yucky and girls-have-cooties stage, but they are definitely “in love” to the extent that young people of this tender age can be.

The way they look at each other is what John Paul II (in his Theology of the Body) would call “the peace of the interior gaze.” There is no lusting, there is no grasping or the base kind of self-centered physical excitement: just a deep penetration into each other’s souls. They seem to know each other already, even though they must make this knowing explicit by constant communication, questioning and explaining of themselves.

It gets a bit sexual at one point, but in a truly innocently curious way. Yes, you wouldn’t want young people getting the wrong idea that this is what they should be doing, or that this is even “normal” at twelve years old. But of course, young people today, especially girls, are physically maturing earlier and earlier, and living in our “pornified” culture, they are exposed to so much (often perverse) sexuality so young. SPOILER ALERT: When they wind up in their underwear after jumping into the lake, they try French kissing; Sam feels Suzy’s flat chest, Suzy notices that Sam is “hard” when they hug. That’s about it. It’s handled very naturally and somewhat discreetly. It’s parents’ call whether your child “needs” to see this. This film will, however, encourage kids to: be themselves, pursue hobbies, not follow the crowd, express themselves (in a “don’t hide your light” type of way), and be kind and loyal.

People are weird. People are unique. People don’t fit. And ultimately, the people in “Moonrise Kingdom” are okay with that and give each other some breathing room.

The end gets a bit chaotic, madcap and screwball, and doesn’t really work, but the closing scene—with a kind of new order restored—is well worth it. These two young lovers gently woke everyone up—without even meaning to.


Sister Helena Burns, fsp belongs to the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation of religious women dedicated to spreading God's Word through the media: www.pauline.org. She gives workshops to teens and adults on media, philosophy, and Theology of the Body and is the movie reviewer for The Catholic New World, Chicago's Catholic newspaper. You can follow her excellent blog, HellBurns at hellburns.blogspot.com.
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  • jackieo

    I am rereading this article in disbelief. John Paul II’s TOB, 12-year-old couple engages in sexual exploration, and “encourages kids to be themselves” were all ideas mentioned by the writer in sharing her perspective of this movie. I think some serious editorial action needs to happen here . . . not only would I NOT encourage kids to see it, I, personally, (as a 46 yr old) do not want to watch kids be sexualized on film. I can’t stop thinking about the young actor and actress playing these roles . . . what adult coached them play through such scenes without remorse for violating their natural modesty (which our created bodies desire!) Early development in girls (and/or boys) does not merit acting on sexual feelings. I am sure I am preaching to the choir by writing this to a Catholic Lane audience. Truly, I am somewhat embarrassed to see this review attached to a website with the name of the beloved Mother church on it.

    • Mary Kochan

      I think you are correct. I thought about adding an editorial note that CL in no way endorses this film. and the point you made aboutthe actors, is one I totally agree with. But at least parents are informed of the details by this review, whereas otherwise they might have gone to see it blindly.

      No sure if those are scare quotes around “need”, either.

      I would love to know what others think about this review.
      Mary Kochan, Catholic Lane Editor-in-chief

  • jmbrink

    I agree with Jackieo. My wife and I saw this in the theater a few nights ago – and while we had our many laughs, we suddenly grew silent as an awkward scene that nearly bordered on child pornography unfolded before us. We may be in the 21st century, but that 12 year old actress got more “coverage” that, in a way, did not seem to be playing on childhood innocence.

    Another factor was the blatant misuse of our Lord’s name by one of the actors that made me wince. It was only used once – which almost makes it worse, as if they just couldn’t resist throwing it in there.

    That said, the movie was hilarious and even touching. Just a shame that these things had to be thrown in.

  • Ouch! I agree with jackieo too. Thank you for making those points. As Mary said, I’m thankful for the warning, but definitely, that one scene ruins it.

    Stacy Trasancos, Senior Editor

  • Hello All,

    I must apologize for the lack of information in my review above. It DOES sound like I’m approving of a horrible scene. I wanted to mention the scene since the film is rated PG-13 and parents might think the whole film is appropriate for kids.

    Wow: “child porn.” I didn’t think of it in that light because of the true innocence that comes across in the scene because of the innocence of the ERA. But here we are WATCHING it. AND watching it in our “pornified” era. Big difference.

    HERE’S HOW THAT PARAGRAPH IN MY REVIEW SHOULD HAVE READ–WITH MORE INFORMATION:
    It gets a bit sexual at one point, but in a truly innocently curious way. Yes, you wouldn’t want young people getting the wrong idea that this is what they should be doing, or that this is even “normal” at twelve years old, but of course, young people, especially girls, are physically maturing earlier and earlier, and living in our “pornified” culture, they are exposed to so much (often perverse) sexuality so young. What MK portrays is neither pornified nor perverse. It is probabaly akin to how precocious young people might have experienced puberty in the past. But it seems it just couldn’t be so innocent today because of the hypersexualization of the culture and ubiquity of porn. What exactly transpires? SPOILER ALERT: When they wind up in their underwear after jumping into the lake: they try French kissing, Sam feels Suzy’s flat chest (Suzy is wearing a flat bra), Suzy notices that Sam is “hard” when they hug. That’s about it. It’s handled very naturally and somewhat discreetly. What might be “cute, funny or sweet” to adults could give younger people ideas to try to imitate. It’s parents’ call whether your child “needs” to see this. There’s also http://www.clearplay.com which eliminates objectionable scenes/language in films so that the whole family can watch a movie together at home. (As a film purist, I hate seeing films butchered this way, but if you’ve got kids? This will often be the only way you can watch films as a family.) This film will, however, encourage kids to: be themselves, pursue hobbies, not follow the crowd, express themselves (in a “don’t hide your light” type of way), and be kind and loyal.

    It’s really a film FOR adults ABOUT kids, and I write mostly for an older movie-going audience, but I always try to give some attention to parents, but it can be tough to bridge both those readerships.

    I apologize for any scandal if it sounded like I was completely OK with this scene.

    Sr. Helena Burns, fsp

    • Mary Kochan

      Thank you for this comment and clarification, Sr. Helena. Here is one of the things that bothers me about such scenes: It is not only what is portrayed, but the fact that young actors are being put in the position of portraying it. What about their consciences and souls?

      Years ago I was talking to a friend about what a wholesome example the Huxtables seemed to be on TV. My friend said that I was not taking into consideration that they kissed and were shown in bed together — AND, she want on “they are not married to each other.”

      I must admit that that gave me pause. I think the entertainment industry has eroded all of our sense of right and wrong, modesty, and morality. We think that nothing of romantic scenes between actors and actresses — now even between child performers. We take passionate kissing for granted. This has put me in one of my occasional, “no more movies” moods.

      Yeah, I know all the arguments about how we “have to be involved in the culture, blah, blah, blah….” Maybe we are all just drinkin’ the devil’s kool-aid.

  • jmbrink

    Sr. Helena,

    I appreciate your response. While the phrase, “child pornography”, is a little overstated, I used it to emphasize my point that the scene we’re discussing involves a girl who is wearing very little, as the camera pans across her body. Her chest is very visible, not to mention the underskirt shot of her going into the tent that is in no way subtle to the audience. My wife and I felt uncomfortable watching this scene and thought it unnecessary to the movie as a whole. I’m sorry, but I don’t buy the guise of childhood innocence here and agree with Mary regarding children in movies who give away their modesty without fully comprehending what they’re doing. As a parent, I couldn’t imagine consenting to my daughter acting in that scene, regardless of what ERA it’s in – using your emphasis.

    May I ask: as a Catholic film critic, what is your response to the blatant use of our Lord’s name in vain in this movie? In this era (sadly), it seems rather commonplace in film, but as a whole, do you see this movie getting a Catholic recommendation if it were shown in the 50’s? Would Archbishop Sheen give it a plug in Life Is Worth Living? Why should we now?

    Truly, I don’t mean to be snarky here. I found the movie to be very enjoyable, but I thought that particular scene distasteful.

    • JMBRINK: Yes–forgot about the upskirt shot as she’s going into the tent! I don’t recall her chest (what chest?) being visible at any time, and I also don’t remember the Lord’s name in vain (maybe once: Ed Norton). A “kid” film where the Lord’s name being taken in vain (by a kid) was continuous that REALLY disturbed me, was the otherwise excellent “Super 8” (which also had a very true-to-life kind of adolescent “love” without the touching/sensuousness).

      I agree we don’t need to cave in to the devolving sensibilities of today, or keep lowering the bar just a little. I do believe this film should have been rated R for that scene (unless they wanted to remove it).

      I guess my dilemma was: did this scene make this film unrecommendable for kids AND adults? It seems the consensus in the comments here is: YES. And it has really made me rethink. As soon as I shot the review off, I had doubts, and y’all have confirmed them.

      Of course that scene would not have flown in the 50’s or made it past censors and Sheen would most likely have roundly condemned it. I think we are trained today: if it’s realistic (e.g., to an era, to the way people talk/act), and there’s something redeemable about it, it gets a pass. I guess this is what I was originally thinking.

      I think that in our pornified culture, the boundary between adult/child is being removed, and there is such an upswing in child porn* (or at very least the sexualization of children) that I cringe when I see parents letting their small kids run around in public naked or young children almost naked. People don’t SEE the same way, don’t see children, the body, each other the same. It’s a lustful, objectifying gaze now.

      *It is proven that adult porn is a gateway to child porn even for non-pedophiles. http://www.pornharms.com

  • Dear Mary,

    I know EXACTLY what you’re saying, and sometimes I feel the same way. It’s the whole “acting is lying” thing, and when is simulation NOT real? ALL media is virtual REALITY. And yes, those young actors will NOT be the same (or adult actors for that matter) after acting in a scene like that. When you stop standing back with a cold, analytical eye and lean in to the human, it’s a different picture. But one way I look at it is: obviously, these young actors must not have parents who care about this, and therefore these young actors don’t care either. Or maybe they DID have qualms of conscience and went ahead and did the scene any way. They are obviously not practicing a religion/philosophy that would have them find this prohibitive. And yet there IS something redeemable about the scene as I mentioned in my original review.

    I suppose we could choose not to support, view, etc., a film with such a scene (I did not know it was coming, nothing I read prepared me for it), or we could have a conversation like this about it among ourselves and with our children (if they happened to see it unawares).

    The scene was not at all treated like the pinnacle of the film, or even the reason they ran away together. They were much more involved in talking and doing things together, getting to know each other, etc., but it is still quite problematic.

    If I had kids and could have screened it ahead of time without them? http://www.clearplay.com BUT I might TELL them about the objectionable scene and we’d talk about it together. I’m all about defanging, demystifying the “verboten” (in an age appropriate way)–often just by talking about it. This is how I approach “Family Guy,” one of THE worst and most popular shows on TV. I don’t SHOW the clips (I show lots of clips from other movies, TV shows, etc.) because they’re just too offensive. Instead we describe the scene and talk about it. I tell the teens I don’t want to “spread it.” (And I make a face like it’s a disease.)