EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week I took issue with a judgement call that Phawker film critic Dan Buskirk made about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of a scene in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and voiced my disagreement in an editor’s note attached to Dan’s review. In the interest of fairness and equal time, I am running his response here. But first the passage in question from Dan’s review followed by the editor’s note I attached to it at the end. Here is the segment of Dan’s Moonrise Kindgom review in question:
Through all this gorgeously whimsical design, there’s one niggling fact, taking up less than two minutes of screen time, that curdled the sweet-natured mood of Moonrise Kingdom for me. It is in the way Anderson films his young female lead, Susie. At the age of twelve Susie is just at the cusp of puberty, doe-eyed and naive, with a poise and directness of an adult. It reminded me of the way the twelve year-old Natalie Portman was presented in Luc Besson’s Leon: The Professional, with the near-romance between Portman and her mid-40s-ish co-star Jean Reno. Where Besson flirted with the romantic tension, he kept Portman and Reno’s relationship chaste. In comparison, Anderson is more prurient. ??Giving Susie the same sort of otherworldly resonance he bestowed on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Margot Tenenbaum as she walked in slow-motion while Nico sang “These Days,” Anderson makes her more of a hipster ideal than a real human being. With her precise fashion sense and her love of Francois Hardy and feminist fantasy fiction, Susie is the sort of creation that more closely resembles a twenty-something Brooklyn art student than a real pre-teen girl.
Movies give us the license to stare at a beautiful child but Anderson betrays our trust and the light-hearted mood of the film by getting…well, kind of pervy. First it is a fleeting look at Susie’s underwear as she climbs into the tent and then an awkward love scene with the pair standing in an isolated alcove in their underwear. First they kiss, then she coaxes him to French kiss her, then mention is made of his hard-on, then he begins massaging her breasts. From there it is a hard cut of Sam and Susie lounging while Sam smokes a pipe, the oldest post-coital symbol in the book. I can’t imagine being as distracted by this in a realistic film about teens, but in Anderson’s idealized fantasy world, the sexualization of Susie hits a discomforting note. Revisiting the pangs of first love makes for heady nostalgia, fantasizing about nailing your 12 year-old girlfriend takes us to a much darker place. Like an inappropriate comment a friend makes about your daughter, I could forgive Anderson’s lecherous eye, but I couldn’t quite forget it.
(Dan, having finally seen the film last night, let the record show I think thou doth protest too much. The scenes in question clearly fall on the right side of artistic representations of the first awkward gropings of budding sexuality vs. pornography. As did my GF who is sensitive about such matters. No ‘creepy’ flags were raised on our end. Results may vary, I suppose. — The Ed.)
Dan responds to my editor’s note:
It’s great that you weren’t distracted by the sex scene, there’s a lot of joy in the movie that should be tapped into.
And I’m not surprised the scene went past so many critics, its unsurprising being that they are so overwhelmingly male. But sex scenes are put in films in part to arouse the primal emotions of an audience. Watching two people kiss passionately, rub each other and announce that they are sexually aroused makes heartbeats increase and sweat glands secrete, its a biological fact. I resent having my arousal stimulated by 6 graders, it feels like a betrayal of the trust I have in the director, one who has made a film that otherwise functions as a kid’s fantasy. It might have been realistic to have Charlie feel up a girl after finding the golden ticket, but it doesn’t mean it would be in dramatic tone with the rest of the film (and in my experience, 12 seems a little young for such sexual confidence anyway.)
The heterosexual and fantasy elements help to sell it. Would the scene play the same way if it was two 12 year old boys? Two twelve year old girls? If the kids were ugly? If the kids were ten? What if instead of the boy saying he was hard (or was it the girl noticing? I wish I could remember), what it if the girl said she was wet? What if she started groping him? If any of these details were different I bet more critics’ antennae would have quivered.
I guess it is a credit to Anderson’s mastery that he can break one of cinemas most feared taboos and make it go unnoticed. Maybe I’m just holding on to antiquated values, maybe the cinematic exploration of 6 graders’ sexual exploits will become commonplace (“It’s THE LITTLE RASCALS MEETS PORKY’S” could be the pitch line) and maybe 12 year old girls will become increasingly comfortable in their titillating new role (I know panty flashing is already quite popular among Japanese fetishists.) Regardless, Anderson’s desire to be a trendsetter in this new frontier seemed like a worthwhile point of discussion to me as a writer, whether folks are in agreement or not. Especially since everyone else out there seems to be writing the same review.
(P.S. – I wanted to do some research on simulated sex among pre-teens in cinema, but suddenly felt a bit self-conscious about typing the phrase in to Google. Maybe you could enter “simulated sex among pre-teens” for me and tell me what comes up?
here’s a fellow traveler….
“There’s also something particularly icky about watching two pre-pubescent kids making out in their underwear on a beach that’s oddly even more disturbing than those creepy Calvin Klein underwear commercials from the ’90s.”
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