06/18/2012 04:08 pm ET Updated Aug 18, 2012

'Moonrise Kingdom': A Tale About Purity

Somewhere there exists a kingdom (or queendom) recognizable by its citizens' purity of spirit and intention. When we happen upon it, should that be our good fortune, we will smile. We will find purity of love, purity of purpose, and clarity of action. Dwellers in the kingdom will need to face adversity for how else can we know that the purity is genuine and not facile, and that what appears authentic has roots deep enough to withstand strong winds and tidal floods? At the end, when all else may be rent asunder, shining through will be something ethereal, something wonderful. It is purity.

Wes Anderson has given us a movie, Moonrise Kingdom, which is more than whimsy and charm (though it has plenty of those). You know him from works like The Royal Tenenbaums and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. His latest is a wonderfully original film worth paying attention to in our age of self-absorption and gnawing cynicism. And it is evidence that we can envision, at least through Anderson's cinematic eye, a kingdom of purity. Set on a craggy island off the northeast Atlantic Coast (the film was shot off Rhode Island but could have been one of the many Yankee coastal states), we are warned at the start by one of the island's even more peculiar inhabitants that a storm of historic proportions and destruction is coming.

Circumstances like that call for Bruce Willis, and he is there as the island's police chief and only cop; while he wears a gun you wonder what it is doing on his holster. His sidekick in maintaining order is Ed Norton as a cigarette-smoking, brandy-drinking scoutmaster of the Khaki Scouts -- with a propensity to lose them. He reports to the indomitable Harvey Keitel, on a nearby island, who is master scout of all, proof positive that incompetence is apt to be rewarded with rank and privilege. To assure that we understand the gravity of matters, we have Bill Murray (increasingly wild in appearance as he seasons) as a rich lawyer with four children, living on the island with Frances McDormand (his wife and fellow counselor) in a New England shingled, center entrance Victorian that earmarks their repressed Yankee character and sizable wealth. They are summer dwellers placed at an opposite pole on the island to the scouts at Camp Ivanhoe.

But the movie belongs to two young actors, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, who play Sam and Suzy. They are early adolescent misfits, one an orphan in foster care and the other the child of a dysfunctional family. They both stand accused in the court of human judgments of being odd, of being disturbed, of needing to be controlled. How little we know about who carries the flame of humanity, kindness and capability, as we come to see. These youth find each other: like electric charges that need to combine. They fall in love. They run away. They get others to run away. They change minds and hearts, not by trying -- mind you -- but by pursuing their love and independence, their freedom from hypocrisy and our silly rules and conventions. They are the pioneers, literally and figuratively, in this movie about a better world.

I loved the way the story disrobes the goofiness of bureaucracy as "Social Service" (played to a T by Tilda Swinton), a nameless functionary whose rigidity can ultimately be bent by legal threats and not simply by the prospect of a solution to 'her' problem of what to do with a troublesome youth. I smarted at the all too real way we see how marriages go cold while people seek warmth. The bloodthirstiness of (male) youth was not spared but trumped by their deeper needs for attachment and justice. Police and lawyers are also at the end of the ironic arrows of the writers' and director's quivers. "Was he a good dog?" the dialogue poses, and Sam tells us, "Who's to know?" We are all made witnesses to the foolishness of casting judgment.

The storm of "historic proportions" arrives on the island. It is Armageddon, for life, limb and spirit. All are called to respond. It is the moment for the noblest and the purist to step forward, and they do. Even those who do not are brought along by the natural and spiritual forces that impact this iconic island and its motley but true to life characters. The story is not exactly redemptive; it is more ethereal than that. It is a story, magically rendered by cast, crew and director, that leaves us feeling that purity is a state that can be achieved, but we may have to let the children lead the way.

Lloyd I. Sederer, MD

The opinions expressed here are solely mine as a psychiatrist and public health advocate. I receive no support from any pharmaceutical or device company.

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