Bastille Day 2012: Civilized Memories of the Moonrise Kingdom in a Savage Land


No day on the calendar more appropriately juxtaposes civilization and savagery than July 14, Bastille Day.  If any nation in the world epitomizes the height of human civilization, well, I suppose that would be England until Tony Blair became PM, but both before the insertion of “Great” in the title of the United Kingdom of England & Scotland was added to “Britain” by the Act of Union in 1707 and since that word is no longer really warranted, especially since the House of Lords no longer has any hereditary peers or judicial functions, there has been and still remains “La France.”  

Much moreso than the American Revolution which preceded it barely by 24 years, hardly a generation, the French Revolution really marked the beginning of the Modern World, of truly modern history in all its blood and gore relating to ideological warfare.   The great ideals of the scientific and philosophical enlightenment coupled with the barbaric rejection of Christianity; the concepts of liberté, egalité, fraternité, however unrealistic they are, coupled with massive official murder and senseless bloodshed—all of those things are commemorated on July 14—the greatest of all the remaining Midsummer Fires that Sir James G. Frazer described as the Aryan heritage of Europe in the Golden Bough (whose brilliant Third and final original Edition Celebrates its centennial this year).

So last weekend and this, I listened to my gendarme and lieutenant (both appropriately Francophone titles) Peyton Yates Freiman, who told me that I had to see Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom with Bill Murray because it was the most “relevant” film of the year.  Last weekend I had the misfortune to see the movie paired with Oliver Stone’s Savages and the contrast was almost too great.

Savages—set in Southern California where I now spend most of my time and in Orange County in particular, which I associate with the Savagery of Orly Taitz and her husband Yosef, not to mention Steven D. Silverstein, among many others—is so “relevant” to the modern world as to be deeply depressing.  Oliver Stone artfully created a dual ending to blunt the nightmarish effect of the plot in its most obvious line—which led directly into bloody death and destruction of all the major characters—into a pro-establishment (if hardly credible) pean to the weak-minded DEA Agent credibly played by John Travolta.  Savages was a “Brave New World” movie, regardless of which ending you choose to believe as the most realistic—it is amoral, devoid of decency of any kind on the part of any person—it does not exactly “glorify” the drug traffic but it doesn’t raise any standards of—anything.  Savages belongs to the “Reign of Terror” aspect of the quatorze juillet.   

Yesterday, I reproduced on these pages Guillaume Faye’s depressing commentary on the role of the sexual revolution in the death and decay of modern Western Civilization.  Savages was an extraordinary movie (in some significant part) about the end product of the sexual revolution: total sexual liberation, specifically a romantic threesome which might pass as “polyamory” in Huxley’s Brave New World and modern 1980s and afterward sense.

By contrast, Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom pledges allegiance to a world that is all but gone, vanished, which has essentially been murdered by the sexual revolution and liberation epitomized in Savages.  The first time I saw Moonrise, last week, was in the company of my rather sentimental and deeply feminine friend Min, who passed out/knocked herself out (intentionally fainted?) during Savages (because it “came to close to home” for her comfort) and she focused on the warming and endearing feel of Moonrise Kingdom.

This week, for a second viewing, I was alone and finally I realized what Peyton meant by “relevance”: Unlike Oliver Stone’s work Moonrise Kingdom is TOTALLY SUBVERSIVE.

Now there was a time when Oliver Stone made people think and challenged the status quo, but I think that phase of his life ended in 1991 with his magnificent JFK.  The transformation of Stone into a supporter of the establishment and status quo was already apparent in the final entry of his Vietnam Trilogy Heaven and Earth (1993) but his W. kowtowed so cravenly to the 43rd President that it made me ill and I had to leave the theatre when I saw it.

No such worry about Moonrise Kingdom—it brilliantly pits the vitality of youth and young love against the wooden and legalistic stupidity of elders.  Yet the young love in this kingdom is as moral and Christian as Romeo and Juliet. Love comes first and foremost and all hints of sexuality are wonderfully awkward and childishly mishandled in very credible, realistic ways.  Min appreciated this innocence the first time round but I didn’t realize just how deeply ethical, romantic, and moral it all was until seeing it alone on Friday the 13th.

I’m just overwhelmed now that I realize how well this movie really did show the brilliance and triumph of true love over law in a manner that Richard Wagner would have appreciated and congratulated.  The marriage ceremony is patently and admittedly ILLEGAL—but the fact that it takes place at all—in front of a cross in a camp chapel no less—for a pre-teen couple who met during a Church production of “Noah’s Flood” is in this day and age counter-revolutionary for sure. (The Church called “St. Jack” is a major setting of critical moments in the movie.  It is operated in part by white-robed nuns who might be Episcopalian [e.g. in the Anglican Order of Saint Helena] or RC, albeit they operate a whitewashed wood-framed “Puritan” Church with a bell tower of the type so typical of the fictionalized New England setting—a mythic Island of “New Penzance” whose map ever so slightly resembles the layout of Nantucket).

One need only compare and contrast this with the apparently, at least architecturally, authentic Gothic Church which played a key part at the beginning and end of Snow White and the Huntsman.  This Church not only lacked even a single cross but did not allow to its (again, classically dressed) Christian Clergy the utterance any prayers which made any mention of the people I admire most (the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who had apparently taken the last train to the coast).  I would have to examine the film frame-by-frame but I think there was even something resembling a menorah in the Church—slightly horrifying considering there was no cross.  (In all fairness, Kirsten Stewart is allowed to recite the “short version” of the Lord’s Prayer and Thor, I mean Chris Hemsworth, as the Huntsman all but expressly compares Snow White (while he believes her dead) to the Virgin Mary when he predicts that she will “be a Queen in Heaven and sit among the Angels”—but overall, overt Christianity is shockingly suppressed EVEN in portrayals of obviously Christian Churches!).

But Moonrise Kingdom was all about real moral optimism and virtuous rebellion against stifling legality and convention.  It is a movie which I think could be shown for young teen viewers and discussed for its ethical stance everywhere that White American Christians still live and cherish the values of….well, an America that increasingly seems not to exist anymore.

It remains to be seen whether Moonrise Kingdom is an epitaph on a world that is as “Gone with the Wind” as the Confederate world of the Old South or whether it symbolizes the existence of a real resistance to the Brave New World with a live heartbeat in America.

Either way—directly contrary to Mark Anthony—I stand here to praise the values embodied in Wes Anderson’s film, not to bury them.   The young Kara Hayward actually IS a brilliant new actress, from Massachusetts, and a member of Mensa they say.   The credits also indicate that this is her, and her “Romeo” Jared Gilman’s, first appearance on what they used to call the “celluloid screen” but is now apparently just pixels like everything else.  Even the music of Moonrise Kingdom starting and ending with Henry Purcell, reminds us that “restoration” of a moral and constitutional regime is possible even after the disastrous dislocations of civil war politically motivated ideological  savagery.   Only a very small amount of 1960s music (French at that) insinuates its way into the world of Suzy Bishop and Sam Shakusky—most of it is Classical and reminiscent of everything that I grew up with—a bizarre bipolarity of Restoration Baroque and Hank Williams which I thought was oddly out of place in New England—but then my parents loved the Kingston Trio and brought Northern “Folk” from Massachusetts to New Orleans for their wedding.

The reality of the world on this July 14, 2012, is that it IS a savage place. The English Civil War (prior to the Restoration of Charles II and the “Cavalier” music and poetry of Henry Purcell and those who came with it) was certainly savage, although not as bad as the French Revolution.  The American Revolution was strangely quiet and conservative, certainly there were a few martyrs and senseless killings on both sides, but in a muted way, nothing as extravagantly awful as the Show Trial of Charles I and his execution, nor anything even remotely like the French Revolutionary bloodbath.

 La Marseillaise celebrates both the beauty of the dreams of the French Revolutionary Patriots and the gore of the war and terror of 1789-1799, when Napoleon Bonaparte took charge as First Consul and thus ended both the revolution and the terror.   The pair of movies, Savages and Moonrise Kingdom portrays the same dichotomy in the world—the real world and the ideal world, and their joint appearance in theaters this summer reminds us of the short time from 1965-2012—a mere 47 years, and how much can go wrong in the world in such a short time.

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