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Oscar Screening: Seeing Moonrise

Claire Johnstone

Wes Anderson
Moonrise Kingdom
Focus Features
25 May 2012 (UK)







Kooky camera work, percussion-led soundtrack, surrealistic voice-overs, vintage furnishings and Jason Schwartzman—it was definitely another Wes Anderson. Moonrise Kingdom (nominated for Best Original Screenplay) may have had all the old hallmarks, but it was also fresh, and memorable in its own right for its delightful lightness of touch, genuine soulfulness, and, most obviously, its central love story: the whirlwind romance of two runaway twelve-year-olds, brilliantly rendered captivating to a predominantly adult audience.

But most memorable, perhaps, were the glasses. There were Laura Bishop’s (Frances McDormand’s) tinted specs, Walt Bishop’s (Bill Murray’s) circular, tortoise-shell frames, Captain Sharp’s (Bruce Willis’) thick-rimmed, clear pair, and, taking centre stage, Sam’s (Jared Gilman’s) wayfarers. There was even Suzy Bishop’s (Kara Hayward’s) oversized spyglass, through which the audience were on occasion invited to look. In fact, all of Wes Anderson’s films, notably including The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and The Life Aquatic (2004), star spectacled characters, but never do they appear in such arresting profusion as in Moonrise Kingdom.

Why are these glasses at first so conspicuous, and then so memorable? There is something undeniably unusual about seeing so many pairs on the big screen. Audiences may be used to seeing the odd pair, worn to fulfil a stereotype. Clark Kent dons a pair when in serious as opposed to saving mode, Ms. Norbury, played by Tina Fey, the maths teacher in Mean Girls (2004), fulfils the expected role of sexy female geek in her specs, and, in Little Miss Sunshine (2006), the young Olive Hoover is marked out as the adorable loser in her oversized pair. But this is not how spectacles appear in Moonrise Kingdom, where they are worn indiscriminately, whether by the lawyer, the cop, or the Boy Scout – by people who, it appears, simply have less than perfect eye sight.

The fact that this completely normal use of glasses is so striking calls attention to the fact that the film industry’s obsessive airbrushing habit smooths out not just skin imperfections and unwanted protrusions, but also glasses, giving the illusion that all mankind, minus the odd stereotyped individual, is blessed with perfect 20/20 vision, and in the process stigmatising those who are not.

Although Wes Anderson, himself a famous glasses-wearer, does not normalise spectacles in Moonrise Kingdom per se, by presenting in such sheer, even joyful abundance, these completely commonplace pieces of plastic, metal and glass, and by associating them with no specific, stereotyped group, he begins the process of rendering them, and the flawed eyes that lie beneath, as commonplace as they really are.

Claire Johnstone is reading for a DPhil in English at Mansfield College, Oxford.