“I got hit in the mirror,” eleven-year-old Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) tells Sam, a Khaki Scout, when they meet in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. “I lost my temper at myself.” The movie, an exploration of an island off the coast of New England and the people who live there, is a mirror picking up all sorts of flashes and themes from Anderson’s work. But it’s also a reflection that’s kinder to one of Anderson’s earlier characters than Suzy is to herself: Moonrise Kingdom is, to a certain extent, a story about a young Margot Tenenbaum.
Anderson’s live-action movies are obsessed with children who have lost their parents, whether to death or misadventure. In Rushmore, private school boy Max Fischer is motherless, and renders his true father non-existent with lies and exaggerations. Margot Tenenbaum is adopted, the source of her discontent in The Royal Tenenbaums, while her childhood neighbor and grown-up lover Eli Cash wants to replace his family with hers. Steve Zissou, the narcissistic oceanic explorer in The Life Acquatic is the reverse, a parent who has lost his child only to be found out by the young man. The brothers in The Darjeeling Limited are mourning the death of their father.
Moonrise Kingdom features a real orphan and a metaphorical one. Sam (Jared Gilman), a Khaki Scout whose flight from summer camp mobilizes the residents of a New England island to search for him, is living in a large foster home, a fact that’s evaded Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), who is supposed to be looking after him. Suzy, the doll in this particular Andersonian dollhouse, down to her matching dress and saddle shoes, which are color-coordinated to her house and school bus stop, is lost in her own family. The discover of a volume entitled Coping With the Very Troubled Child on top of the refrigerator is one of the reasons Suzy decided to make a break for it, heading off into the woods with Sam armed with a portable record player and a collection of young adult novels (“Usually I prefer a girl hero,” she explains to Sam, “but not always.”).