The world of Wes Anderson has always been a singular one, but he brings to it a new story of youthful love in “Moonrise Kingdom,” which opened the Cannes Film Festival last week.
“It’s the autobiography of something that didn’t happen,” he said during a conversation in Cannes about the film, which opens in theaters Friday in a platform release from Focus Features.
“I remember dreaming it up, dreaming of acting on it as a 12-year-old,” he said, calling the story a “memory of a fantasy.”
In the film, a young, serious Sam (Jared Gillman) — a capable Boy Scout — falls in love with the determined, young Suzy (Kara Hayward) and runs away with her. At age 12.
Now 43, Anderson still has the waifish look of the delicate introvert we met well over a decade ago with "Bottle Rocket" and “Rushmore,” his hair long to his shoulders, his shoeless foot dangling from under a white linen suit.
“I was fixating on a particular experience — there was a girl in my class who was occupying my thoughts — I didn’t get to know her,” he went on, reminiscing. “So I dreamed up this scenario of two kids who are very bold and so unhappy in their own circumstances that they actually go to those lengths.”
The lengths include abandoning all the grownups, a delicious ensemble cast with Edward Norton as the Scout leader, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray as Suzy’s lawyer-parents and Bruce Willis as the local police chief.
The setting is an East Coast island, and the kids spend much of the movie hiking or boating from one inlet to another. The politics of Scouting figure prominently in the movie, too. (One might imagine Anderson to have been knocked around by bullies as a kid.)
Anderson, whose last movie was 2009's animated “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” has taken his time building an oeuvre. The work is challenging. He spent a year trying to write “Moonrise,” stuck on the first 15 pages in which Jared and Suzy meet one another in a field.
His friend Roman Coppola, brother of Sophia, read it. “He said, ‘What are you worried about?’ I said, ‘I don’t know what happens. I thought that was their first meeting.’ Roman said, ‘Haven’t they arranged to meet there?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s good.’”
So the two friends collaborated on the rest of the script, in which Sam and Suzy run away and (spoiler alert) get married. Which isn’t really the point.
Now much imitated, the writer-director is no less self-conscious about his particular way of telling stories, writing dialogue and presenting characters than he was before the world was aware of a "Wes Anderson style."
“I don’t usually think about a style for myself,” he said. “I think, ‘In this movie I want this world.’ And the details are that world. Every movie is a different world, but when they see it people say, ‘Oh — you’re doing what you do.’
“I relate that to my handwriting. I prefer to write in my handwriting. If someone says, ‘I’m influenced by you,’ I also feel I’m influenced by so many other filmmakers, and so many other art forms. I’m entering into the continuity of movie cultures.”
As he goes on, Anderson is even more controlling of his movie environments than before. On films like “The Royal Tenenbaums,” he would take copious notes for the set and draw artwork that ended up in the family home.
In this movie, he had sets built — a trick he learned from animation — rather than finding locations, so he could fully control the look of Suzy’s house, for example.
He’s happy with the result, and he’s already moving on to a new project. It also has a part for Bill Murray, a regular in many of Anderson's films.
“With ["Moonrise Kingdom"], I did what I set out to do. So anytime I make a movie, I’m pleased that I got one done. They’re hard to do. And I feel I did it carefully, I got it finished right. I feel like this one is finished.”