Moonrise Kingdom: Orphans in Community

Posted: December 4, 2012 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Drama, Romance
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How do you feel when a friend or family member watches a movie you love and absolutely hates it?  I tend to take that very personally.  Moonrise  Kingdom is one of those films that you and a significant other may end up with totally contrasting opinions.  I, and several of my older daughters loved it (my wife, not so much).  Admittedly, I tend to like quirky stories about odd people (not sure why?).  And, I am a big fan of Wes Anderson films, as his stories often focus on a broken or unorthodox family unit.  Of course, I wouldn’t want to be involved in these sort of families (see The Royal Tenenbaums), but they are very entertaining nonetheless.  By the way, if you want to start with a more benign (less odd) Wes Anderson film, I highly recommend Fantastic Mr. Fox for your next family movie night.

Moonrise Kingdom is set on the fictional New England island of New Penzance in 1965.  Sam and Suzy are misfit 12 year olds who fall in love and plan to run away (Yes, very Shakesperean).  Sam is an orphan who is considered emotionally disturbed by everyone around him, including his foster care parents and his entire Khaki Scout troop.  Suzy is also a difficult child who quickly loses who temper and acts as an outcast in her family.  They both long for love and acceptance, as well as some adventure.

Spoiler alert!  The youngsters’ disappearance causes nearly the entire island to mobilize, including the Police Captain (Bruce Willis), the Khaki Scout Master (Edward Norton), Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand), and the scout troop.  The children are recovered after what amounts to an extended camping trip, and are forced to return to their miserable lives.  Because Sam is such a difficult orphan, he has no future except in an institution (and maybe worse).

Then, things really get interesting.  The Khaki Scouts find a new resolve to rescue Sam and re-unite him with Suzy.  This time, the pair needs to get further away, get married (I know, they’re only 12, but hang with it) and start a new life on another island.  Another desperate hunt ensues by even more of the community, including a lady from Social Services.  The climax of the tale has Sam and Suzy contemplating joint suicide (see, told you it sounded Shakespearean)–only to be remarkably rescued by the entire community in a much more positive way.  Watch the movie for the rest of the story…

While my plot summary is certainly lacking, the movie is not.  It is rich and complex, loaded with symbolism and emotion (in a very un-emotional way).  To me, here’s the essential, and potentially the most missed point of the story: While the main characters are cast as the only “orphans,” the truth is that ALL the secondary characters act as orphans too.  Suzy’s mom and dad have no relationship–even sleeping in separate beds.  The Police Captain is a sad, lonely man who’s having a secret romance with Suzy’s mom.  Scout Master Ward is also a frustrated, lonely guy.  The Khaki Scouts are really all very odd orphans as well.  The lady from Social Services is alone.  The list goes on…

Then, here’s the best part!  Because of two lonely outcast orphans who want desperately to have a real relationship, the whole community comes together.  Suzy’s mom breaks off the affair.  She tries to have a new relationship with Suzy.  The parents start making amends.  The Police Captain rescues and adopts Sam.  The Khaki scouts start working together as a “family.”  Even the lady from Social Services comes to help instead of hurt.  Scout Master Ward ends up with a love interest too.

Do you get the picture?  This movie is a weirdly odd portrait of the CHURCH!  We are all orphans needing adoption.  We need Jesus to redeem us and make us members of the family of God.  Whether we recognize it or not, we even need the community of believers.  Consider Galatians 4:4-7:

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

The truth is that the Church of Jesus Christ is made up of a bunch of diverse oddballs who desperately need love and relationship.  Yet Christians often (mis)treat each other as Sam and Suzy had been treated–as outcasts who are much too difficult.  Tragically, we splinter into cliques or even go it alone as orphans.  So, what does it take for local churches to act more like loving families rather than odd collections of orphans?  Maybe it takes crisis or persecution (we certainly are much too comfortable in the Western Church).  We definitely need the work of the Spirit to bind us together.  It is much too tempting to be independent rather than interdependent, separate rather than unified.  I encourage you to enjoy the quirky Moonrise Kingdom and think about your place in the community of believers and the family of God!

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