This month’s theme: Wes Anderson characters. Today: Sam Shakusky from the delightful 2012 movie Moonrise Kingdom, written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola.
Director and screenwriter Wes Anderson has created several cinematic sensations that have featured youthful protagonists seeking out the worldly guidance of older, but not always wiser mentors. A few of these primary characters have been youngsters that have extraordinary focus on their very particular interests, yet the world around them often becomes way too real and closes in on them.
There was 15-year-old Max Fischer in Rushmore, looking to become a high school legend purely by overbooking his extracurricular activities. But the harsh reality of actually having to pass his academic courses threatened to put the kibosh on any such grandiose hopes.
Wes Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola made the parentless precocious pre-teen Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) in the 2012 romantic coming-of-age comedy Moonrise Kingdom an extremely mature camp scout seeking a reliable family unit, even if it only has one member.
Moonrise Kingdom from IMDB:
A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.
Sam Shakusky may be only 12 years old, but this little guy has turned his summer camp tour as a Khaki Scout into upgraded outdoor bravado. He is sailing canoes, pitching personal campsites and escaping from his scout troupe to be with the only one who may actually love him, Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward).
Sam is an orphan with repressed emotional wounds that can become easily peeled open with tense temperamental treatment from his peers. Shakusky’s biological family is no longer around, his foster home is closing the doors on him, his fellow campers treat him several levels lower than a contagious disease and his rolodex of friendly contacts would be seemingly vacant if it wasn’t for Suzy. This lack of companionship also draws the socially introverted Suzy, a black sheep of the Bishop family, towards her male counterpart Sam.
Sam’s somber childhood has morphed into his accelerated mastery of survival skills and very adult mannerisms and life lessons.
SAM SHAKUSKY: That sounds like poetry. Poems don’t always have to rhyme, you know. They’re just supposed to be creative.
From his “Daniel Boone” head gear with a tail, to his tobacco pipe sending smoke through his pint-sized lungs, Sam appears ready for a grown man’s world, with or without electricity and appliances in it. But even the great outdoors is always better when you have someone to share it with.
Sam and Suzy’s friendship becomes a mutual romantic necessity, a cosmic connection that warmly inserts the missing words into their incomplete definitions of themselves. Their premeditated exile from their restrictive peer groups and family structures opens up a daring deployment towards their personal oasis – Moonrise Kingdom – where no one can judge or alienate them any longer. They are discovering what unconditional love feels like, with every understandably awkward question and each pubescent French smooch, using the tongue this time around.
SAM SHAKUSKY: It’s possible I may wet the bed by the way. Later, I mean.
Sam’s relationship with Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), the fictional New England town’s one-man law enforcement department, becomes crucial for Sam and the lonely and unmarried Sharp as well. Even Sam and Suzy’s unofficial-by-law but very official-by-heart “marriage” is a ceremonious salute to their bond and unbridled desire to feel connected to a receptive counterpart. This is Sam actively pursuing a new family for himself – literally.
Arguably the most hyper sad moment occurs when Edward Norton’s character Scout Master Ward breaks the news to Sam about his foster home ousting, and in turn finds out Sam is quitting the Khaki Scouts as well. Sam’s thick skin that has shielded this little big man from weeping over his woes understandably collapses, as does any beating heart human in the audience. Sam Shakusky has no father or mother figures to rely on, only that quietly melancholy red head that totally gets him, but is being yanked away by her concerned parents.
SAM SHAKUSKY: I feel I’m in a real family now. Not like yours, but similar to one.
SUZY: I always wished I was an orphan. Most of my favorite characters are. I think your lives are more special.
SAM SHAKUSKY: I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.
For his radically endearing child/man explorer swagger, his undaunted escape from social isolation into pre-teenage love and his fearless search for a family to call his own – Sam Shakusky is a hilarious, heart-breaking and uniquely GREAT CHARACTER from the Wes Anderson archive.
Granted orphans are choice character types for Protagonists because they immediately do two things: (1) Engender sympathy on the part of the moviegoer. (2) Create an immediate need for a sense of family. The way Anderson and Coppola handle Sam in Moonrise Kingdom manage to work both of these dynamics extremely well, even if in a quirky Anderson-type way.
By the way, this is my favorite movie of 2012.
Thank you, Jason, for this post. Please hit Reply and join us in comments to discuss Moonrise Kingdom with Sam Shakusky.
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