living in

Living In: Moonrise Kingdom

by Maxwell Tielman

In Wes Anderson’s 2012 film Moonrise Kingdom, one of the protagonists carries a small collection of stolen library books wherever she goes. If Wes Anderson movies had a scent, they would probably smell like these books: dusty, worn volumes, the kind in the children’s section with yellowed pages, clear plastic wrappers, and illustrated covers. They’re not the glossy paperbacks that sit on the New Releases shelf, but the ones that are tucked away into little-visited corners; not particularly current, but containing the potent, often seductive lure of a far away time. As a director, Anderson seems drawn almost exclusively to objects and styles that have achieved a certain vintage and he often looks towards the past with rosy (or should I say yellow) eyed nostalgia. Although Anderson’s films have taken place in a number of different settings and time periods, this film’s place in time seems particularly suited to the director’s romance with the not-too-distant past. One might almost believe that Anderson chose Moonrise Kingdom’s period, approximately 1965, for the sole purpose of being able to furnish a film so fully with his aesthetic. Indeed, as far as Wes Anderson films go, Moonrise is most certainly his most ornate, and arguably his most style-driven. Plot seems to have been placed on the back-burner here, more a vehicle for changing scenery and witty observations about childhood than the film’s main attraction. This, however, appears to be completely intentional. Rather than a typical plot-driven movie, Moonrise Kingdom functions more as a beautiful gesamtkunstwerk in which each of its elements informs the larger whole, creating what is more a piece of visual art than a movie. Throughout the film, Anderson’s trademark style shines brilliantly—from his wonderfully framed shots to his penchant for muted, warm color. At its best, Moonrise Kingdom combines its various elements to create what I can only describe as an intangible experience—a funny, charming, and visually mesmerizing escape from the present. As a physical document, it is nostalgia objectified. —Max

1. Shift Dress | 2. Coonskin Cap | 3. Leica Binoculars | 4. Knee-High Socks | 5. Green Eyeshadow | 6. Wool Blanket | 7. Oxford Shoes | 8. Pocket Knife | 9. Lone Scout Neckerchief

1. Record Player | 2. Scout Campaign Hat | 3. iPad Cover | 4. First Aid Kit | 5. Backpack | 6. Wooden Art Set | 7. Heavy Steel Frying Pans

Film: Moonrise Kingdom

Year: 2012

Director: Wes Anderson

Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban

Production Design: Adam Stockhausen

Art Direction: Gerald Sullivan

Set Decoration: Kris Moran

Costume Design: Kasia Walicka-Maimone

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  • I love this movie! There is a great Fresh Air interview on NPR with Wes Anderson about Moonrise Kingdom, really interesting to hear his thoughts and inspirations behind it.

  • I want to live in this movie, specifically, Scout Master Ward’s tent. The first time I saw it I was charmed by the art, set and costume decorations. By the fourth viewing last week the simple and sweet, but never treacly story, had won me over. I knew it was just a matter of time until it would be featured in this column. Thank you!

  • I love the film and I love what you wrote about it. I’m glad that you chose the record player, even though it’s not quite the right one (I owned one very similar to the one in the film). But an IPad cover…for shame! It should have been a journal or an atlas.

    • Ellen— I understand your feelings. However, I sometimes try to sneak in a few items that capture the “feeling” of the film, but are applicable to the things that people use today. I also included a composition notebook iPhone case for my Harriet the Spy Living In post. I feel that things like this allow people to use the aesthetic of a film to dress up objects that they use everyday. In the case of the iPad case, it was more of an artistic liberty on my part than something drawn directly from the film.

  • Max is such a good writer, his posts are always really engaging and informative. Although I’ve seen (and loved) this movie, this really delves into how and why not only this movie, but all of Wes Anderson’s movies are so captivating.

    I think what keeps so many people coming back to D*S is it’s thoughtful and informed posts about art and design. They don’t just put up five nice pictures, but also provide thought-provoking content that’s a little more “meaty” than what you could find on a lot of other design sites.

  • I loved the music in this movie! I teach middle school choir and much of the music was so suited to that age group (singing-wise) and the age of the kids in the movie. I especially loved the moment where they are in the canoes and the choir is singing “Old Abram Brown.” I’m such a choir nerd, but the design + the music made this the best movie!

  • This was my favorite movie of 2012. It was such a complete film, enthralling till the end and beautifully photographed and styled. Thank you for reminding me how lovely it was.

  • This movie was playing on an overseas airline flight I took a few months ago. My earphone jack was broken so I watched the whole movie with no sound. Even though I only had a general idea of the plotline, I kept watching it because the style was so pretty. I think it made it that much more a surreal and beautiful experience.

  • There is nothing not to love about Moonrise Kingdom. I’ve watched this movie so many times, already, and each time it’s a little better. This movie makes me long, even more, for the days gone by. What I would do to have lied during the 60’s. Such a great time period! Your description of this movie is spot on!

  • Great article, now I have to try and use gesamtkunstwerk in sentence. I would have been 11 in 1965, I can so relate to the style. I definitely wore shift dresses and had a record player like Susie’s. You’re right when you say it’s a work of art. Each scene is so lovingly saturated with details, both visual and aural. I’ve seen it five times and it just keeps getting better!

  • I was hoping you’d do this at some point. One of my all-time favorite movies. The design is fantastic. :)

  • Fantastic! Wes Anderson movies are my favorites and you captured the feeling of this one so perfectly. Well done :)

  • I also love this move! Every scene was like a vintage polaroid! As an artist and collector, my eye traveled over every item in each scene. And my goodness, composition??? Forget about it!

  • Haha, I was just making a pinterest board ‘Decorating like a Wes Anderson Film’ because of a conversation I had about this movie and the sets of his other films. Wild and awesome timing!

  • I’m a huge Anderson fan, and I think this is his best movie so far. Not only did setting it in the ’60s allow him to completely immerse himself in his favorite aesthetic, but I think all of his movies are, fundamentally, about the ways in which adults fail children, and how children survive that — except in this one, the adults do the right things while the children are still young. I found that incredibly moving, especially given the damaged characters in his other films, and I wonder what his own childhood was like. I suspect making this movie was something of a healing process for him.

  • Ahhh… I LOVE Wes Anderson. There is so much to love about Moonrise Kingdom, Edward Norton AND Jason Schwartzman! You had me at hello..

  • this movie makes me happy. library books, a record player, bicycles, tents…simple and straight forward….the characters, not so simple!

  • This is such a gorgeous looking movie. I have to bashfully admit I bought black and white saddle shoes after watching it. Styling oneself after a 12 year old, is not something I like to advertise. ;)

  • I don’t exactly remember how I found out about this movie, but I do know that what got to me was the vintage feel of it. I’ve always loved anything vintage and one of my favourites is vintage Americana. (The girl reminds me of a young Lana del Rey.) I’ve always wanted to know and experience what life was like in those days.

    Though I’m a digital photography hobbyist, I still prefer pictures taken with film. Unfortunately, I don’t have the budget (as of yet) to take film pictures, but seeing movies like this, with the added grainy effect always gets to me.

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