Music and Meaning in Moonrise Kingdom

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As graduate school comes to a close for the year I’ve been working on a paper about some of the music in Wes Anderson’s (amazing) movie, Moonrise Kingdom. If you’re not familiar with the movie, the basic gist is that 12-year old Sam runs away with Suzy and the two lovebirds keep trying to escape the adults. But the kids’ are portrayed as the sensible ones! Overall it’s a great, quirky movie that I’d definitely recommend for your summer viewing pleasure.

Anyways, a lot of the film score is music written by Benjamin Britten (a composer in the 20th century). P.S. You don’t have to be a fan of classical music to enjoy the film! It’s just a nice “easter egg” of sorts if you know/like Britten’s music.

Anyways again, one of the most powerful moments for me in the film is about 15 minutes in when Suzy discovers her mom is having an affair with the policeman, even though it’s early on in the film (and not a spoiler). I’ve been considering the music’s role in making this moment so powerful and while I don’t think it’ll fit in my paper, I had to share it with you guys because it’s seriously cool!!

Basically, Britten’s piece “Playful Pizzicato” (from a larger work called the Simple Symphony) has been playing up to this point while various people search for Sam. So at first the continuation of the music to this affair scene puzzled me. No one is searching for Sam right now, so why is the same music playing?? But like I said, every time I watch it’s such a powerful moment, and it seems to have something to do with the music.

And then I figured it out.

First things first: the specific musical passage being played while Suzy watches the policeman and her mom through her binoculars (she hasn’t gone to meet Sam yet) is the same music that started the previous documentary scene as well as the opening of the current overarching scene where the boys are marching with their weapons. So it’s more of a specific repetition rather than just a continuation of the general, “same” music. It’s especially memorable because of the synchronization of the boys’ marching to the music as well as its fairly loud volume for that scene. But even if you don’t consciously remember exactly where you heard that music before (which is perfectly likely), there’s a strong chance that your brain still subconsciously thinks, “hey, that’s kind of familiar.”

Now, in the context of the current scene, this music becomes a more abstract and subconscious commentary on what is currently taking place. What you thought you knew (“Playful Pizzicato” music as searching-for-Sam music) is actually not true (in this case, it’s Mrs. Bishop-meeting-policeman-in-a-suspect-way music). And then on a more surface level, what you thought you knew (we’re given no indication that Mrs. Bishop might even know the policeman much less be having an affair with him) is actually not true as well (they are, in fact, having an affair). Perhaps more accurately, this could also be worded as what Suzy thought she knew is actually not true, since we’re vicariously discovering the affair through her eyes and it’s clear from the look on her face that she understands what’s going on. This double hit with the music is incredibly powerful, at least to me, and even helps convince me as I watch that this is an affair, not just some chance meeting blown out of proportion by Suzy.

If you’ve seen the movie, do you experience this part in the same way? If you haven’t seen the movie, GO WATCH IT NOW. Haha just kidding. (But seriously it’s amazing…)

Thanks for reading and happy beginning of summer!!

You might also like: Clair de Lune in Two Popular Movies (What’s Up With That?)

10 thoughts on “Music and Meaning in Moonrise Kingdom

  1. Have you ever watched a film without the music? It’s an incredibly strange experience. When I was studying a ‘musical score for film’ module when I did my degree we were given the film ‘Love is the Devil’, you know, the film about Francis Bacon and has Daniel Craig in it. But the entire film had no score, and we had to compose our own. It was quite fun to play around with different genres etc and to evaluate the effect they have on certain scenes. I absolutely love Moonrise Kingdom, I love Anderson’s own spin on aesthetic and cinematography (?), he tends to centre a lot of the scenes instead of adhering to the rule of thirds. Same with the Grand Budapest Hotel, I noticed a lot of that had a weird Jazz soundtrack, much like Twin Peaks used to. Great stuff 🙂 Apologies for the essay haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No need to apologize! I haven’t watched a movie without sound but that sounds (ha) awesome!! It reminds me of when the composers at my previous school created new music to go along with a silent film…but each person had a different segment of the film and no one knew what the others were doing! Then they had people perform the music live while showing the film. It was really interesting to see how it all fit together. I don’t know much about the rule of thirds or cinematography but I do really like that movie! Haha. I haven’t seen any of his other films but I want to. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. 🙂 I ADORE WES ANDERSON’S FILMS! MOONRISE KINGDOM STANDS OUT BC I THINK IT’S HIS FIRST TOLD NEARLY COMPLETELY THROUGH CHILDRENS’ PERSPECTIVES, RATHER THAN ADULTS ACTING LIKE CHILDREN. I LOVE THE PIECES CHOSEN ON THE RECORD PLAYER AND THAT THE RECORDS WERE SUCH AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE STORY. I SECOND THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL REC, IT’S NOT AS QUIRKY, BUT PROBABLY FUNNIER THAN MK, AND SO MAJESTIC! CONGRATS ON FINISHING GRAD SCHOOL, KUDOS

    Liked by 1 person

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