2 Stars – Shallow

The style of story-telling and humor used in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is reminiscent of Lost in Translation and Fargo.  Perhaps this comparison comes to mind in part because the stars of both films, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand are Mr. and Mrs. Bishop in this film.  But the comparison has more to do with the emptiness of the characters protrayed and the offbeat interaction and dialogue of the entire ensemble cast.

The two central characters are twelve years old.  Eccentric in their own right, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) are unusually suited.  Troubled and abandoned, both lack healthy parental examples of moral character.  Sam’s lack is due to the death of his parents and his subsequent uncommitted foster home experiences.  However, Suzy’s void is not due to her parent’s deaths but to their empty lives.  Having lost love for each other, the Bishops have become more a legal partnership not only because they are both lawyers but also because they don’t care about each other. Not only is Laura Bishop having an affair on her husband but she also uses a bullhorn to communicate impersonally with her four children.

Reacting to their emptiness, Sam and Suzy reach out to each other for love.  It is this young and innocent love that fuels the central action of the film.  Running away from his scout camp, Sam entices Suzy to run away from her home.  It is their flight into the wilderness that creates the opportunity for them to find a new way to live.

Completing the ensemble cast is Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), a simple-minded but caring police chief, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), whose retreat into scouting’s paramilitary life has provided structure to his life, and a soul-less bureaucrat from social services played by Tilda Swinton. 

We won’t spoil the plot of how this young love impacts Sam and Suzy’s life or a statement that Walt Bishop makes to his wife that sums up the film.  When Laura Bishop apologizes for the pain she caused her husband, she explains to him that the two of them are “all their children have”.  He insightfully responds, “It is not enough.”  We agree.  This film is not enough.  The humanity portrayed is so void of depth and wisdom that it is depressing, not only for Sam and Suzy, but for all of us viewers as well. Although there are some moments of humor, they do not overcome the emptiness of the characters’ lives.

Discussion for those who have seen this film:

1. The creative style of framing each scene is minimalistic yet symbolic.  The use of props such as Suzy’s suitcase and Sam’s glasses create a second language within the film.  Do you find this type of symbolic language helpful or distracting in a film?

2. The innocent sexuality of Suzy and Sam implies a lack of exposure to the sexualized culture in which we live.  What do you believe the writers were communicating in having them be so unspoiled?  Do you believe this is true of most twelve year olds?  Why do you answer as you do?

3. The paramilitary and survival nature of the scout camp was something Sam seems to have excelled at learning. Yet he wants to leave.  Why do you think this is true?  Was it that the other scouts did not accept him, was it his desire to be loved by Suzy, or was it a rejection of such a rigid way of life?  What motivates you to live the life you live: friendship, love, or something else?

Posted on January 21, 2014 and filed under 2 STARS, SHALLOW.