Yeah, I didn’t like it all that much. It’s not that it was bad – it’s certainly a breath of fresh air compared to most of what’s onscreen these days. But if you’re looking for a review that will pay lip-service to the overhyped film, you might want to look elsewhere. Hey, it’s sporting a 95% review average on Rotten Tomatoes – don’t worry, you’ll find someone else, likely more eloquent, whose tastes better suit your tastes. But if you a) like dissenting opinions and b) don't mind spoiling certain inessential aspects, read on. (Note: consider this a big ol’ SPOILER WARNING for the rest of the review. No, seriously, the next thing I write is a SPOILER.)
Really, everything went downhill for me after the dog died. I hate that’s what ultimately what killed it for me, but I’ve just got to be honest, man. I’m okay with a dog death if it serves the movie. Old Yeller? Totally. The Thing? Fuck yeah. Hell, even Cheese’s dog in The Wire had some gravitas. But in Moonrise Kingdom, we get a gruesome image of a very dead dog, which no one seems to give a fuck about. Seriously? A loyal, highly trained, adorable dog gets this exchange as a eulogy?
SUZY: Was he a good dog?Later, there’s an offhand mention about the dog’s death made to the owner, who seems to give even less of a fuck – I believe he says, “It couldn’t be helped.” (He’s a bully, mind you, but I guess him liking his own dog is too much to ask for).
SAM: Who’s to say?
A detached sensibility isn’t new territory for Anderson – his characters are known for their dry patois and reserved emotions. Nor is he a stranger to inserting violence into his cutesy, twee worlds – injuries have always looked exaggeratedly realistic (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited) and Fantastic Mr. Fox in particular played up its more brutal, animal instincts. I do understand the dog’s death as a way to temper the whimsy of the film, a theme that’s recalled continually throughout, but something about this moment rang unsettlingly callous to me. Yes, there are real stakes in this surreal world, but seeing the consequences doesn’t affect any of the characters. Suzy and Sam move on from the senseless death, unfazed, continuing on as if nothing has happened. It’s a cold, inhumane response to a pretty disturbing image, and I wasn’t sure how to root for characters who plainly felt no empathy for a defenseless animal.*
But I’m not sure how to reconcile that with the dog. I feel like it’s not the characters’ shortcoming, it’s the film’s. It’s playing with the idea of the ramifications of childish violence, fairly overtly (think the too-tall treehouse or the lefthanded scissors), but ultimately the dog is treated as collateral damage. It holds as much emotional heft as the piece of wood that falls from the treehouse. At the end of the film, Snoopy’s corpse is likely still just lying out there in the woods, likely not even missed.
Anyway, it IS a film worth seeing on the big screen. It’s flawed, yes, but significantly less so than most other movies coming out this year. And it is a spectacle – big, golden and beautiful, brimming with neat little flourishes and rewarding to a careful eye. But don’t believe the hype – this is not the best Wes Anderson film by a long shot, and I just hope he continues to challenge himself not just aesthetically, but with a deeper exploration of his characters’ interior lives.
*Also, I just wanted to note a bias here: I am a dog owner, so this moment likely hit me more strongly because of that. However, I think it's likely still something that would have disturbed me a year ago, before I owned a dog, but it might be one of those things like when a kid dies in a movie, and you don't understand the true depth of that emotion until you've had a child, you know?