2012-07-04

Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson remains his own best parodist, so I'm uncertain whether the pride of place he awards to Benjamin Britten in Moonrise Kingdom is a newfound enthusiasm or just escalation.  I'm getting tired of comparing Anderson's films to Cornell boxes, but the labored set design of Summer's End, the mid-Sixties holiday retreat of the Bishop family at one end of New Penzance, an island halfway between Montauk and Martha's Vineyard, claws at the eye.  Weathered trimming, desultory board games, and kitschy oil paintings aggressively crowd the frame to draw in this curator of summer cabin aesthetics.

Kingdom is as wry and diverting as previous Anderson outings, but it doesn't carry quite the dread of mortality that stalked, say, The Royal Tenenbaums or The Darjeeling Limited.  This is probably due to the focus on adolescents Sam and Suzy; the adult A-listers' roles are respectfully muted.  Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman are delightful discoveries, although I couldn't help imagining Jason Schwartzman coaching them off-camera.  I suppose it is gluttonous of me to have wished for a scene between the Camp Lebanon's conniving Supply Master (Schwartzman) and Commander Pierce (Harvey Keitel's mustache).

I hope Ed Norton becomes a permanent addition to Anderson's collection.  The alarm that Norton's Scout Master Ward displays when he learns that Sam is an orphan poignantly illustrates the potential of Anderson's declamatory dialogue style.  I am Jack's bottomless well of wistfulness.

2012-07-01

The Submission

Like The Mirage, Amy Waldman's The Submission engages in a bit of alternate history:  What if in 2003 a jury selected a design for the memorial to the victims of 9/11 only to discover afterwards that the designer was an American-born, non-practicing Muslim named Mohammad Khan?  Waldman gives us a number a perspectives on the controversy, but ultimately they all revolve around that of Claire Burwell, the only representative of the victims' families on the jury and initially the strongest advocate for Khan's design.

With its parade of types gleefully misunderstanding one another, The Submission recalls nothing so much as The Bonfire of the Vanities (which Waldman herself invokes digressively in a character portrait).  As in Wolfe's farce, Deeply Held Principles are incinerated and crushed by Unintended Consequences, and the only relationships that preserve their meaning are personal.

Reading The Submission during the controversy over Anne-Marie Slaughter's unintentionally anti-capitalist essay reinforced the sense of privilege that admitted Claire to the jury in the first place and affirms her role in bringing the narrative to its conclusion.  All other players are too freighted by their class and cultural baggage to empathize with anyone else.  The closure Waldman affords to Claire is not available to anyone else, and Waldman never suggests it should be.