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Thinking pop culture

Happiness and things that go meh in the night

Moonrise Kingdom - now showing.

I’m relatively convinced that it’s comparison that’s at the root of all unhappiness.

Comparisons wreck relationships and equally do they ruin pop culture.

I’m voracious when it comes to films, to books: I see a lot, I read a lot and thus it’s rare that I’m ever eagerly anticipating or long await-ing anything.

Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom was an exception.

Moonrise Kingdom trailer.

If I’m asked that impossible “favourite film” question, I’ll usually answer Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). I generally run an anti-repeat-viewing policy, but I’ve seen and loved Tenenbaums a great few times.

The Royal Tenenbaums trailer.

So when a writer/director like Anderson gifts you something so wonderful, so seductively quirky as Tenenbaums and you can’t help but expect that everything he follows it with will be equally great. To dazzle you and move you exactly the same way.

You can’t help help but harbour expectations.

And he delivered with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2009); the shark scene still makes me teary (admittedly Sigur Rós probably had a hand in that):

The shark scene from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007) was also quite wonderful:

The Darjeeling Limited trailer.

And Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) is probably one of the most visually stunning films I’ve ever seen:

Fantastic Mr Fox trailer.

I first read about Moonrise Kingdom - read that it was set in New England - while I was living in New England. Of all my various personality oddities, my belief in synchronicity, in patterns, defines me. And my blind worship of serendipity allowed me to develop expectations. I knew better - I always know better - but the long-awaiting and eager anticipation soon started.

So what went wrong? Why, half an hour in, was I fidgeting? Why did I leave the cinema with a single word review: meh.


My intention in this blog is not to write reviews but rather to tease out talking points. For Moonrise Kingdom my interest is in comparison. Of querying the role it plays in enjoyment.

The friend I saw Moonrise Kingdom with loved it. You could see it in his hideously delighted smile. He was, needless to say, an Anderson virgin. He had nothing to compare it with.

Oh how I envied him.

I too remember what it was like to watch Rushmore (1998). To be charmed, to be dazed, to have my first taste of Anderson’s gorgeously melancholic/faux-nostalgic/perfectly soundtracked splendidness.

Rushmore trailer.

Alas, Moonrise Kingdom was not my first Anderson foray. And it is here where the disappointment lies.

I had to compare Moonrise Kingdom to Anderson’s other films. And it gives me no pleasure to say it faired poorly. It offered nothing I hadn’t seen before, it didn’t conjure any feelings I hadn’t felt before, and that whimsical scrapbook-y, swap card aesthetic of his other films felt worn a little thin.

Had I simply compared it with the other films I’d seen either side of it - The Watch and Your Sister’s Sister - it might have been considered good; great even. But my brain doesn’t work that way. Rarely do we examine things in isolation, in a vacuum.

Years ago I attended a philosophy lecture. (An accident, admittedly). The theme was the daring suggestion that we view and analyse each event - in history, in life - as completely independent, individual and as separate from everything else around it. As a political scientist the idea seemed thoroughly preposterous: I’m all about patterns, about explanations, about connections and time-lines.

But I was thinking about that lecture as I left the cinema. About the possibility of daring not to compare.

Imagine if we didn’t compare, for example, date 27 with date 1, and thus didn’t feel resentful that things weren’t as romantically spectacular.

Imagine if we didn’t hear that first The Editors song and compare it to - and thus dismiss it - as a poor imitation of REM.

R.E.M. Country Feedback (1991)

Imagine if we didn’t compare Moonrise Kingdom with any other film and just enjoyed it on its own merits.

Imagine if we didn’t compare our appearances, our lives, our relationships, our work with others.

I’m pretty sure our brains don’t work that way - I’m convinced we haven’t yet conjured a method of evaluating stuff without considering all that’s around it - and yet I’m almost certain that I’ve scratched the surface of (un)happiness.

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