Skip to content

Moonrise Kingdom

Smell my impotence.


I’ve got 8 barrels of whiskey, a shotgun, a box of shells, and a cyanide pill. I’m ready.


Moonrise Kingdom is a movie about two kids using each other to get back at their parents in the hope of getting back their parents, whilst simultaneously stringing up a safety net for the audience. Great movie.

My favourite part of the film occurred during the scene when the adults rowed over in their little boats to the secluded cove – which the children have named Moonrise Kingdom. There, when the adults caught their children in the tent getting it on, the male kid hugged the girl and said: “We’re in love.”


The cyanide pill was calling for me when the kids started to do the sexy dances and kissing. I get it. We’re supposed to dismiss all notions of what ‘love’ is, and let ourselves lean so far ahead that we drop down in the perspective that we should look at love as pure as theirs, that we should have no sort of direct disgust; what century is this you are not supposed to be disgusted anymore, we have to understand everything and everyone – we’re supposed to intentionally suspend disbelief and fall into the hole – the director yells without words. The problem is that fake Hermione and that Moscow-hat bespectacled guy had absolutely no chance at real love. What they did was instead to follow what the adults did earlier in their lives – which leads us to our next problem.


It’s made absolutely clear that in the movie, the adults are the ‘antagonists’, the destroyers of all good and pure, the corruption comes directly from them. Bill Murray talks about how he wishes he were dead, Francis McDormand is cheating on her husband. Let’s take notice that all adults were portrayed as bumbling and useless. In the eyes of the targeted generation for the movie, here is how the adults look like to them: Bruce Willis – Die Hard; in this film he wears a well-ironed police uniform and does nothing but smoke and walk around. Edward Norton – American History X, The Hulk; never bursts out of his schoolmaster uniform, instead wears silk PJ’s and drinks wine to bed. Harvey Keitel – Batman Begins, Pulp Fiction; has burnt marks all over his face because his cabin exploded while he was inside retrieving his arthritis medicine. The cast was chosen specifically to introduce such juxtaposition. What this means is that we know and understand the ‘power’ of all of these actors, but in a slight nod we acknowledge that in this movie they’re playing something they’re not – which further pushes the idea of who they are on the inside of the character, versus the role they have to play as the character, but what is ‘real’ is merely transposed into the inner character of the characters in this movie. What this means for the audience is that we see the all-star cast of adults and we recognize that they have an ‘inner’ power within them, despite their external uselessness/stupidity. If you haven’t realised by now, this is the exact gaze that the audience views their real parents with.


Since we’ve established that in this movie, the kids see their adults as useless and dumb, can someone explain to me what is going on when the kids decide to follow right in their footsteps? Why are they doing the exact same thing as their parents (fall in love, have sex, hate on life) when they could do the exact opposite (be a Buddhist monk, turn to communism, anarchism…)? These kids see all the faults with what their parents are doing, and to rebel they do the exact same thing but 20 years earlier? For the adults, these activities (fall in love, have sex, hate on life) are merely rituals that they have to go through because they’re adults. For kids to actually attempt these things, there is a transgression, and through this transgression we see the “real” meaning behind these things in life, something which the adults cannot see because they’re adults. The kids are claiming ‘meaning’ back from life. I shouldn’t need to remind you that this ‘meaning’ is supplied directly from 20th Century Fox. I hope your ticket was worth the money.


Let’s go back: What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more. Perhaps marriage will tell us all we need to know about love. At some point in the film, the kids get married, but just before that a sleazy-looking adult takes off his shades and looks at them sternly, warning them that they should think it over before committing to such a sacrosanct matrimony. The kids look confused, and then walked over to a private area to discuss. We can’t hear what they’re discussing about, while in the background there is a boy jumping around on a trampoline. I don’t get it; I want to know what they’re discussing! Perhaps we should look somewhere else for the answer: (500) Days of Summer. In this movie, a young man ‘falls in love’ and he talks to his younger sister about it. He describes how the girl he loves has the same aptitude for music as he has as well as similar literary tastes. He concludes: “She’s the One.” How many times you can roll your eyes depends on how much lube you put under your eyelids, but unfortunately this is real. In Moonrise Kingdom, the straight impression is that both of the lover kids clearly had a penchant for quirkiness and music and books, and in that they were meant to be lovers. Wes Anderson had the scene right, the boy bouncing around on the trampoline with music playing in the background while the lover kids discussed about marriage: it was all an act, we couldn’t hear anything they were saying because there was nothing to be said, they were simply mouthing words to affirm their love. By now I’m in my 7th keg of whiskey and it might kill me, but it won’t help. Love – to kids and the intended audience of the movie, is equally superficial and they’re headed straight for the same path as their parents, but of course they think they’re different: their love has meaning. Wait, wait, hear me out, I know that love as a concept is relatively recent and before that arranged marriages between tribes were the status quo, but my point is that instead of taking responsibility with the freedom of ‘love’, they use it precisely as a tool of vengeance against their parents. Even though it’s not their fault, there is only one hell.


If you’ve watched the whole movie, you’ll know that adults are impotent. When Bill Murray caught his kids having sex, he lifts up their tent with his bare hands, and growls like a bear, and then does nothing really. Harvey Keitel is as lost as a kite without his scout troopers, Edward Norton swirls his wine before drinking, Bruce Willis is paid to look insecure on screen, Frances McDormand has to ask their kids down for dinner by using a bullhorn. On the other hand, the kids use sophisticated scout-trooper jargons, cross rivers with nothing but a rope, have the distinct ability to navigate the deep forests by themselves. If the adults are useless except for fighting, then the kids are the inverse – useful and smart. However, we shouldn’t be content with the idea that kids merely take on the opposite traits of their parents. It’s pretty easy to tell why the kids ‘rebel’, during the boat ride and in the bathtub, the lovergirl had so much hate oozing out of her pores that my screen started flickering and going dark. She made it clear that she hated her parents with all her might. Let’s take two steps back, this kind of hatred is only possible when lovergirl has been completely subjugated by her parents – she is powerless. But wait, aren’t her parents stupid and impotent? Exactly, what can be worse by being completely oppressed by people that are absolutely stupid? Hence that seething hatred – that kind of hatred that can only be a representation of utter powerlessness. “You might be winning, but I hate you, and you love me, so you lose.”


However, here is where I take a divergent turn. It is through this hate; from hate comes the feeling of being oppressed, and this oppression manifests the parent’s power which is where the safety net comes in. You hate your parents and their corporate drony lives and the media easily helps you understand how meaningless that is, so you aspire to find meaning out in the world – i.e you major in literature attempting to grasp that poetic reverie that your parents will never understand, but future jobs be damned – it becomes your identity to disavow the future as long as your muse tingles your spine whilst your eyeballs go white as poetry drips from the blood of your pen. At the end of the movie, the lovers stand at the edge of a clock-tower, prepared to jump into the sea for love. This is the ideal moment – think, this is the point at which Bruce Willis appears and buckles down. This is the point of the overturning of power; this is the pivotal scene in which the kids win. This is the re-emergence of the power – ‘real power’.


There are three distinct levels here. The parents have symbolic power over their kids, which ‘works’ since “fine” and “whatever” seems to be the only words parents have ever heard from their kids. However, the kids find out that parents are actually impotent behind that symbolic power – Bill Murray needing to cut the tree down scene; if you need to demonstrate your ‘strength’ to your kids, your game is up, we all know you’re impotent. Finally, the need of kids for their parents to regain that power, although no longer symbolic – the kids want it for real/ believe it as real; which comes out only through the excessive pushing of their parent’s impotence, and it is exactly then that the kids believe the power of the parents will return. In other words, kids believe that castrating their parents is the way in which they hope their parents will regain true power. Since kids know the symbolic power in parents is false, they simultaneously then believe in the ‘real’ power of their parents, and castration is the way to push that power out. However, for castration to even be considered, the assumption of the ‘real’ power must already be inherent, and that is the ‘safety net’ of the children. It is only with the ‘safety net’ at all, that the kids can even push their lives to the extreme without having second thought for any consequences.


The movie ends with the scene in which the boy and the girl are allowed to be together, and the boy is seen painting the girl. One scene later, we see that the painting was instead of the cove where they first fell in love – Moonrise Kingdom. I’m no prophet but I can predict that life is going to continuously be difficult from now on so here’s a joke: how do you make cyanide delicious?


Answer: Ideology.



Categories: Psychoanalysis.


But wait, there's more! Follow feed.

Comment Feed

23 Responses

  1. Interesting argument. But the goal of “Moonrise Kingdom” isn’t supposed to be a documentary about the naivete of children and safety nets. Cinema is inevitably romantic. I mean this in the sense of the intellectual movement in the 18th century. Even Cinema Verite, in my opinion. The framework of a movie and its contents is the perspective and biases of the creative minds involved. (Is there anything such as objective truth, even?) But even if my opinion re: Cinema in general can be contested, it can be agreed upon that Wes Anderson’s films are deliberately romantic as well. That’s why he employs his very distinct, quirky style in order to tell his story better. And the audience in turn acknowledges that though the way humans act in films such as Moonrise Kingdom aren’t realistic, its success lies in the fact that it manages to resonate emotionally with people because it is still very human. The audience can empathize with characters and feel their sorrow or joy.

    And why can the audience empathize, including adults (who comprise most of the critics who have praised it so highly)? Deep inside each of them is still that innocent child that yearns to escape to their own Moonrise Kingdom. It’s not a cyanide pill. It’s a fine red wine. Too much of it definitely makes you see the world differently, but don’t most ideologies serve as a framework to understand the world in a certain way as well? Ideologies are inseparable from the way we function in society, in line with Althusser’s framework. There are different ways of viewing the same thing, but this article takes the movie in a way that defeats the movie’s cinematic intent and goals.

    I respect that you can have this opinion regarding Moonrise, and I choose to express why I disagree to foster earnest and engaging intellectual discussion. :)

  2. thoughts on the motif of the symphony orchestral piece played where the instruments are playing the same melody and then reunited playing all at once? you touched on it with the children mimicking their parents’ flaws, their fear of getting stuck, etc. the separation while following the same path, then the reunification probably cementing that path as parallel to the piece of music in the opening and closing. im inclined to give anderson a lot more credit than youre giving him tho. enjoyed the piece, thanks

  3. Wow. That is a great observation.

    I actually give Anderson a lot of credit, I think this film is really well made. As you pointed out, the motif of the symphony is a great touch to the film, alongside many others.

  4. Hello M, thanks for the reply! I really appreciate it.

    I see your point, and I definitely do agree with you on this, cinema is based on a romantic framework. You make really excellent points as well – that adults do want to escape to their own Moonrise Kingdom.

    However, here is my problem. When Bill Murray and Frances McDormand were younger, did you think that they would not have their own ‘Moonrise Kingdom’? If Moonrise Kingdom can be said to be the ideology of young and pure love that people want to escape into, I’m sure Bill and Frances had that in the past. What’s happening now? They’re destroying their lives, and their children’s lives.

    The whole point of this article is that even the children themselves are following exactly in this direction, and the last scene especially – the boy is with the girl, and yet he is painting a picture of his fantasy! What happens when his ‘wife’ doesn’t happen to live up to his fantasy? That is what is going on – which is why the painting was there in the first place.

    ideologies might be unseparable from life, but this specific ideology is headed to the wrong place, and I worry and drink.

  5. As you can guess, I look at this from a value ethics perspective. It’s through the hypocrisy that the parents gave up the real power (such as it is) and became impotent. As a parent, when you are curbing your child’s desires you are essentially saying that you know what they need better than they do. When you use this power for your own interests rather than theirs they pick up on it quick and then you’re done (ie, the power becomes symbolic and you have castrated yourself). They will always pick up on what you do over what you tell them, and when those two don’t match, it’s over. Look at the bathtub scene with this in mind, the mother tries to connect but ends up only talking about herself. The result is, “I hate you.”

    The shift in the movie is when the adults stop doing what is expedient for them and start doing what is right for the kids. That’s when Bruce Willis goes from sad stupid police man (who’s more concerned with the discovery and end of his affair than finding the missing kids) to action hero. He got it right through standing up to the system rather than helplessly submitting to it.

    Also, an interesting point that I only caught after rewatching, the cove was destroyed by the storm – giving more poignancy to the painting at the end.

  6. The destroyed cove is a really nice catch Frugal. As usual, I’m more than glad to see your thoughts, and as usual I’d like to think you’re wrong about the rest.

    Through hypocrisy, kids learn that the only important variable in their relationship with their parents is power. If we follow your line of thought, it isn’t impotence that the parents face, but one of pure power. The bathtub scene is right – the mother ends up talking about herself and the girl thinks: “Jesus, my life is ruined by you and all you want to do is impose yourself on me further, I hate you!” In other words, oppression to the kids.

    When Bruce Willis does the “right” thing, to whom is the thing “right”? I think you’re applying the Kantian Categorial Imperative here, that a right thing is universally right. I think you cannot do that – Bruce Willis hesitated and unwillingly took in the kids. That was my whole point, that it was at the specific moment to which the kids were about to jump that Bruce buckled down – that means he did not want to adopt Mocow-hot boy in the first place; maybe kids cramp his style. The perspective of “right” in this movie is of the kids, not of the adults, and therefore when you watch the movie you are seeped in the kids perspective, which is to say “right” is the kid’s “right”.

    Lets not stop here, what do you mean by standing up to the system? In the perspective of the kids, the adults are the system!! Bruce Willis is the system! I know when you say stand up to the system – you mean he adopted Moscow-boy and did the universally “right” thing, but that is my whole point, Tilda Swinton is the ‘real’ system, and for the kids to ‘beat Tilda Swinton’s system, the safety net is their weapon – Bruce Willis saves them. I hope I’m not typing confusingly.

    I really like your destroyed cove catch, and I appreciate your comments. Let me know what you think, I’d be glad to learn from you as always.

  7. I don’t think there’s only one way of looking at these things so I don’t think you are wrong, but the way that makes the most sense to me is that Edward Norton was valuing the trappings of being a scout leader – this was the path he thought that led to meaning. He doesn’t comprehend Sam’s resignation then, plaintively asking “you don’t want to be a khaki scout anymore?” The idea that meaning can be found outside the structure doesn’t make sense to him, especially given his devotion to that structure.

    It’s only after it’s stripped away then that he sees that the trappings are just that, just the means to the end of fulfillment, and not the ends themselves. Similar with the boys, they thought camaraderie was to be found by making fun of the “other” instead of embracing Sam as a comrade. It’s after their values and understanding are laid bare and shown to be false through experience that they are able to truly question them and change.

    For Sharp, I think the change is more gradual, there’s not the same “aha” moment, but if I had to point one out it would be the conversation in the camper with Sam. Directly after this Laura Bishop breaks up with him, and he realizes that what he has been wanting is not the best thing for anyone, including himself (though he plaintively denies this). This more than anything is where he accepts his life of meaning.

  8. Harvey Keitel wasn’t in Batman Begins?

  9. Yep, that was Liam Neeson. I’ve been told that too many times but change is hard.

  10. Just an observation that really stuck in my mind after watching for the first time was how the mom said “maybe I’ll see you tomorrow” after breaking it off with Willis compared to the little boy saying “I’ll see you tomorrow” to the girl. I don’t know the significance (if any) of such actions, but the repetition seemed important. The comments on both the symphony and picture are fantastic observations.

  11. Again, good catch!

  12. Jeez. Thought this link might lead to something beyond freshman year HS. Study, elevate. Lame and obvious. Postmodernize it.

  13. I was a young adolescent (girl) in the era of the movie. All of us viewed all our parents the same. THey were all in charge, all the adults, and had all the power and decision making. We kids were free to be kids. We all walked together, listened to music together, rode the bus and went shopping together. The worlds of adults and children– family life aside, which did exist– but the adult and kid world did not mix. THis is what this movie captures so well. The truest moment in the movie is when Bruce Willis picks up the boy at the end and you never see him look up at the window. The boy comes down and gets in the car and the adult is focused on what he is doing- picking him up, expecting him to come down, driving away. If the adults were ultimately thought to be unhappy in that era, which is a fiction, actually, I will tell you what they were: They were confident, they were competent, and they made a great world to live and grow up in.

  14. At the end of the film, I don’t think Sam was painting a fantasy. He painted a memory of a place that literally doesn’t exist anymore. Sam and Suzy don’t need to run away anymore to escape oppression from adults. They’ve already proven to themselves that they have the strength and resourcefulness to be who they are on their terms. Sam’s painting of the cove reminds them of that. They can now cope with their lives’ structures because they finally have the support of people who “get” them (each other plus Captain Sharp, who now enables Sam’s contact with Suzy vs. his own with her mom).

    It’s their first love, not a lifetime of co-dependence and unfulfilled dreams. I wouldn’t assume they grow up as copies of Suzy’s parents just because they fall in love, fool around, and hate how helpless they felt. The metamorphous looks the same for a butterfly and a moth. They may leave the island for college, live together, break up or officially get married, and in any case be more authentic to their true selves than the adults they grew up with were.

    At the present time, Sam and Suzy don’t have sex; they innocently imitate a sexual relationship. Don’t be gross – they are 12! The Khaki Scouts clarified that they didn’t even get to 3rd base in case we doubted that Sam’s hands and erection did not go further than the scene on the beach. As with the marriage ceremony and pipe-smoking, they are willfully asserting their right to make choices, marking the transition to young adulthood.

  15. I have a problem with a couple of points that you have made here. Your earlier points I accepted, but you clearly didn’t watch the film properly and your interpretations are not parallel with mine. In the scene where Bill Murray lifts up the tent Sam and Susie are not having sex, they only just woke up being in some clothes and the couple are concretely represtented as clueless to sex, normal (slightly weird) children. Also at the very end scene of the film when the Susie and her brothers dinners are ready, Sam attempts to climb out of the window and gets into Bruce Willis car, so this suggests he is still forbidden from seeing Susie, by Susie’s parents not his new guardian. This is not the best film I have ever seen, or did I find particularly “morish” but some of your points were inaccurate, but also interesting to read and gave me a few ideas on the film I had not thought of myself. So thank you, you’ve helped me with my Media Studies Case study :)

  16. StephanieMay 18, 2013 @ 12:51 am

    Just an observation that really stuck in my mind after watching for the first time was how the mom said “maybe I’ll see you tomorrow” after breaking it off with Willis compared to the little boy saying “I’ll see you tomorrow” to the girl. She broke up with him because there was an “emotional storm” on it’s way and she couldn’t afford for her husband to find out. However, she wants to keep the secret going, because the secret keeps her happy (as it also keeps him happy and feeling special), so she says “maybe ill see you tomorrow”. The boy says this to the girl at the end of the movie because in the same way, he knows it’s not “right” yet he will keep coming back to satisfy his longing to feel special. He is the one in charge of coming back, so he knowingly says, “ill see you tomorrow” instead of maybe.

    In the end, Suzy loves Sam because he is her secret (he is dressed as a police officer, just like the mother had the secret affair with the police officer) and secrets make her feel special (an exact trait of her mother’s). He loves her because she depends on him to be happy, thus he feels special (just like the Captain does with her mother). The two don’t feel like they are special without each other because their family lives don’t give them the attention they need. What they will hopefully grow to realize (before they make the same mistakes as their parents did and entrap themselves in a loveless marriage) is that they each have issues of their own they need to work on in order to love themselves before they can have a real relationship with each other. By the looks of it, they will grow up, she will no longer have to keep him a secret, and he will gain freedom and be able to enjoy his daily life, so they will no longer need to fantasize about each other when the moon rises, (in their dreams, aka Moonrise Kingdom)

    In the beer scene: Captain is getting off his high horse and pours the kid beer to show him that he knows that they are equal. He knows this because he has more life experience, as he would know not to stick his finger in an electrical socket because he is older. However, the kid is somewhat on a high horse because he feels like he knows he is smarter than Captain, which only will he realize later (when he gets struck by lightning) that he may be bright but he’s not as experienced in life as an adult, and he has much to learn.

    All the Scouts made fun of Sam because he was the most different. When Sam showed them that because he is different it doesn’t make him more stupid or weaker, the leader learns this (the hard way) and decides to help him. The rest of the crew follows because just as a whole population would follow a president, they all follow the leader. However with the adults it takes a suicide attempt for them to come off their high horses and help the kids. The scouts were quicker to come down than the adults because they are younger thus they are less permanently stamped into the roles they play in their lives. It just goes to show how people become so stuck in their ways of life, like in the beginning it says, “Are we men or are we mice?” A lot of the movie revolves around this question and shows how people are placed into society and become so oriented to their “permanent” lifestyles and beliefs that they become completely deprived of the ability to think outside the box.

    Everyone has their character flaws in life. Sharp for example, likes women that are unattainable. He said he loved someone once, but she didn’t love him back. He loves a married woman. Perhaps he is depriving himself of love because he doesn’t feel like he deserves to be loved. This again is an issue of someone who needs to work on a relationship with himself, in order to love himself and then find a woman who will love him.

    This is a movie that shows the lack of love that people have for themselves. Life has become much of a show for most people. For example, Edward Norton plays a happy Scout leader, but you can tell he’s not happy on the inside. He smokes cigarettes, but holds the cigarette away from the Scouts to hide the fact that he is disrespecting his own body. He is tough on the outside but isn’t happy on the inside. All of the characters in this movie show lack of self-love, which goes to show how people base their lives on an image rather than inner happiness and self-love.

    These two kids stand up against the idea of living up to their image in order to obtain the temporary happiness they desire, yet they have the same problem as all the other characters and that is lack of self-love.

  17. StephanieMay 18, 2013 @ 3:00 am

    As for the orchestra, it is representative of society. People no matter what career they have they are all part of the same scheme that is the creation of an ideal society. The instruments sound different, but they are playing the same notes and are used to achieve the same final outcome. It is run by one leader who himself decides what the desired outcome should sound like. Each individual person/instrument plays their role and takes pride in playing it to the exact key. If everyone were to have a more individual and free-spirited approach to life, their notes would be more unique and adapted to their personal taste rather than conform to a routine. This would make an orchestra more “real” and less planned.
    The kid naming the instruments shows that children acknowledge individuals for who they are, as opposed to adults who normally just look at the big picture. People nowadays “grow up” and lose the pure and innocent child they were born as, becoming just another instrument in the orchestra, or a mouse, or whatever you wanna call it.

Got insight?

Continuing the Discussion