Wes Anderson has been my favorite director for a number of years. His films are perhaps the most artistic and beautifully composed I have ever seen. His retro soundtracks, his trademark use of slow-mo, and his vintage color palettes are just some of the elements that delight me. What really bowls me over, however, is Anderson’s unparalleled devotion to the mise-en-scène; nearly every scene, if not every frame, operates as its own cohesive allegory within the larger story. The aesthetics of Moonrise Kingdom are no exception.
With his latest release, Anderson presents a tale of first love in a mid-60s East Coast setting. Colorful clapboard, vibrant lighthouses, and charming campsites abound. Almost every fixture and character is outfitted in distinctly ’60s patterns. The overall feel is one of familiarity, a characteristic that extends to the primary plot line as well.
After a year of being pen pals, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) decide to embark on a romantic vacation from their less-than-satisfying pubescent lives. Sam ditches the rest of his fellow Khaki Scouts, Suzy evades her estranged middle-class parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), and the two of them trek along the coasts and woodlands of New Penzance Island. Bullies, scout masters, policemen, social services, and meteorological phenomena all work in opposition against the young pair. Yet, Sam and Suzy manage to share enough time together to realize their bond is unshakable.
Though the couple shares an unwavering love and Anderson presents an established style, my reaction to Moonrise is not as steadfast. I felt giddy as I walked into the theater and blissful as I walked out. I thought the film had managed to quell my insatiable lust for hipster cinema. Then, I acknowledged a nagging truth: Anderson is a hipster racist.
Moonrise is simply the most recent example of the director’s unfortunate penchant for cultural appropriation. Between white Khaki Scouts donning Native American regalia to a recurring Hank Williams song with questionable lyrical content, I felt guilty for having been instantly enamored with the film. That guilt has since changed my perception of Anderson’s past films as well, considering their treatments of race are just as problematic and dismissive.
I acknowledge that my own whiteness plays a huge part in my reluctance to admit Anderson’s failings, just as it inhibits me from picking up on those failings in the first place. I tend to connect with the stories of his films because they are largely based on awkward middle-to-upper class white folks who lack direction or a sense of purpose. That might as well be my personal description. Yet, no matter how well this resonates with me, there is no excuse to ignore those whom his formula marginalizes. There are better, less offensive ways to create an artsy movie. If Anderson cannot find them, I suggest he stick to stop-motion flicks about fantastic foxes. At least then we can all be happy.