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Great Character: Sam Shakusky (“Moonrise Kingdom”)

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.

You may follow Jason on Twitter: @A2Jason.

Script To Screen: “Moonrise Kingdom”

A memorable scene from the 2012 movie Moonrise Kingdom, written and directed by Wes Anderson.

Plot Summary: A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.

Sam and Suzy standing on the beach listening to the French 
singer’s record. They face each other, bobbing their heads 
and tilting awkwardly to the music. Suzy eventually begins to 
dance. Sam does something vaguely like the Twist. They press 
against each other and kiss. Suzy says quietly:

SUZY 
It feels hard.

SAM 
(embarrassed)
Do you mind?

SUZY 
I like it.

SAM 
(pause)
Tilt your head sideways.

Sam and Suzy kiss again. Sam pushes his hands through Suzy’s 
hair and draws it back behind her ears. Suzy whispers:

SUZY
You can touch my chest.

Sam slides his hand up under the training bra and presses it 
onto Suzy’s breast.

SUZY
They’re going to grow more.

Sam nods. He looks to be in a trance.

Here is the movie version of the scene:

There are some critical additions in the film version:

* First off, instead of the “I wish I was an orphan” exchange as in the movie, the scene directly preceding the dance scene is when Sam pierces Suzy’s ears so she can wear earrings he’s made.

* As they start to slow dance, this is added:

Sam kisses Suzy, then spits to the side.

Sam: I got sand in my mouth.

Suzy: Can you French kiss?
Sam: I think so. Is there any secret to it?
Suzy: The tongues touch each other.
Sam: Okay, let's try it.

I think this is a case where Anderson decided he wanted to ‘milk the moment’. And why not? This is an inspired bit of business, something toward which the story has been building. The characters (played wonderfully by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) are so earnest, sweet and endearing, the whole scene is just a delight.

Takeaway: If you hit on a great scene, be sure to explore all the possibilities in terms of action and dialogue, looking for any and all memorable moments.

One of the single best things you can do to learn the craft of screenwriting is to read the script while watching the movie. After all a screenplay is a blueprint to make a movie and it’s that magic of what happens between printed page and final print that can inform how you approach writing scenes. That is the purpose of Script to Screen, a weekly series on GITS where we analyze a memorable movie scene and the script pages that inspired it.

Daily Dialogue — June 15, 2013

Sam: On this spot I’ll fight no more forever.
Sam: [to oncoming horde] Come and get me, you bastards!

Lightning strikes him.

Sam: [with everyone looking on, he sits up and blows off his glasses] I’m okay.
Sam: Follow me.

Runs off.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012), written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week is all is lost, suggested by Turambar. Today’s suggestion by Ellen Musikant.

Trivia: Before filming, neither Kara Hayward (Suzy) nor Jared Gilman (Sam) had ever seen a typewriter in person. Hayward later said, “Fran (Frances McDormand) had a lot of fun with that. She couldn’t believe it. She showed me that the keys are in the same place as now (on computers).”

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary from Ellen: “Each character in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom has a moment of “all is lost” but none so spectacularly than young Sam. At this moment in the story he has lost everything and is ready to give up when he takes a direct lightning strike. The “hordes” (in this case a scout troop) are awed by the strike and his immediate recovery. Sam is instantaneously transformed from “loser” to “leader.”

Takeaway: The audience/reader’s gasp at seeing a child hit by lightning is immediately tempered with the understated “I’m okay” – a totally fitting rhythm and outcome in this film. Pure delight.”

Daily Dialogue — February 26, 2013

INT. DRESSING ROOM. EVENING

Sam moves down a dark corridor. Voices murmur. He pokes his
head around a corner. A rack of choir robes and cassocks
blocks his path. He slides two of them apart and looks
through at:

Five eleven-year-old girls in black leotards sitting on a
bench in front of a mirror framed with light bulbs. They talk
quietly and fix their make-up. They all wear wings on their
arms and beaks on their heads. Suzy sits among them in black
feathers. Sam stares at her. He steps into the light
silently. Suzy sees him in the reflection. The other girls
turn around quickly, covering themselves.

Sam removes his cap and takes another step forward. His eyes
dart briefly among the other girls. He says to Suzy:

SAM
What kind of bird are you?

Suzy hesitates. She looks to the girl next to her, who says
in a bossy voice:

BOSSY GIRL
I’m a sparrow, she’s a dove, and –

Sam does not look away from Suzy as he interrupts, pointing:

SAM
No, I said, “What kind of bird are you?”

The other girls all look to Suzy. Pause.

SUZY
I’m a raven.

Suzy lifts her beak slightly higher on her forehead. The
other girls look annoyed but transfixed. The bossy girl
frowns.

BOSSY GIRL
Boy’s aren’t allowed in here.

Sam does not look away from Suzy as he answers quietly:

SAM
I’ll be leaving soon.

Sam points down at Suzy’s lap. One of her hands is wrapped in
a bandage.

SAM
What happened to your hand?

SUZY
(pause)
I got hit in the mirror.

SAM
(taken aback)
Really. How’d that happen?

SUZY
(shrugs)
I lost my temper at myself.

Sam is deeply intrigued by this. The other girls look
puzzled. Suzy presses her hair back off her face. She watches
Sam nervously.

SUZY
What’s your name?

SAM
Sam. What’s yours?

SUZY
I’m Suzy.

Sam nods with his eyes still glued to Suzy’s. Suzy bites her
fingernails. The bossy girl rolls her eyes.

BOSSY GIRL
It’s not polite to stare.

Sam holds up his hand for the bossy girl to stop talking.
Mrs. Lynn steps into the doorway.

MRS. LYNN
Birds! Ready?

Mrs. Lynn does a double-take. She snaps at Sam:

MRS. LYNN
Who are you? Where’d you come from? Go
back to your seat.

Sam hesitates. He spits the mint into a trash can, ducks out
through the clothing rack, and is gone. A skinny girl dressed
as an owl watches Suzy while the other girls hurry to their
feet. She says quietly:

SKINNY GIRL
He likes you.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012), written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola

[No actual clip available, but this featurette begins with part of the scene. Also an interview with Wes Anderson about the screenplay.]

This week’s Daily Dialogue theme is boy meets girl suggested by TaraPhelps. Today’s suggestion by Mark Walker.

Trivia: When Suzy is reading “Disappearance of the Sixth Grade” at the Mile 3.25 Tidal Inlet campground and continues onto “Part Two” after Sam says to read on, it is just about the exact midway point of the film: the spoken words occur at 46:59, with 46:56 left in the movie. This moment also marks the transition of the film’s plot, of course, so Suzy’s “reading” also informs the audience of the shift in the movie’s tone and direction.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary from Mark: “I think it is a fantastic scene as it tells us how they first met and introduces the start of their love story in that innocent and irreverent way that children have of looking at everything in the simplest of fashion. From the query about the bandage, to the final comment “He likes you” we know we are seeing “flirting”, but masterfully written and delivered through the eyes of the innocent.”