Monday, March 18, 2013

Adoptive Movie Guide: Moonrise Kingdom

Sam is spending time with the Khaki Scouts, taking a break from living at his foster home. His parents died recently. His behavior in the home, and at the camp, has been problematic. He feels unpopular, but he has made one friend. Suzy, the daughter of two belligerent local lawyers, also acts out. She is replaced in a church play, and is crushed to find that her mother is reading a book about raising “your very troubled child.” Suzy feels alone, but she has made one friend. Sam and Suzy have secretly exchanged letters for a year. They finally agree to meet. They each run away – Suzy from home, Sam from camp, and both from their experiences of loneliness.

How is This Relevant to Adoption / Foster Care? 
Sam is in foster care because his parents died. Citing Sam’s behaviors as their reason, his foster parents decide that they will not allow him to return to their home after camp. Social Services is coming to take Sam back to a group home, but a local adult cares about Sam and offers to foster him.  Sam seeks for belonging (and finds it with Suzy, some scouts, and his final foster dad.)

Strong Points
Moonrise Kingdom depicts feelings of discouragement, the struggle to find belonging, and a cause for hope. Sam is able to stay in his city because one of the men in town cares about him and decides to foster him.

Sam confronts one of his tormenters directly, asking, “Why do you consider me your enemy?” He doesn’t get a good answer, and ends up fighting the boy – but his directness in asking the question is admirable.


This movie has the potential to be painful, and the potential to foster a lot of positive discussions. Sam is unpopular at camp; he is awkward (think Dwight Schrute), and many of his fellow Scouts seem to dislike him. When he runs away from the camp, he expresses,”the rest of the troop is probably glad that I’m leaving.” These emotions and thoughts – feeling unwanted and unliked -  are familiar to many kids in foster care. The movie eventually shows many scouts deciding to help Sam, an adult deciding to foster him, and a girl falling in love with him.

Kids talk insensitively about the intimate details of Sam’s life, speculating about the death of his parents. This will ring true to many folks connected to foster care and adoption. 

In one scene, Suzy tells Sam, “I wish I was an orphan. Almost all of my favorite characters are. It seems like your lives are more special.” This reminds me of Deanna Shrodes’ post about things you should never say to adoptees. Sam responds, “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Social Services is portrayed by Tilda Swinton (the White Witch from Narnia), and although she’s a bit brusque and rule-bound, she’s not as bad as other professional social-worker-type characters I’ve reviewed. (Despicable Me’s MissHattie comes to mind.)

Sam and his new foster father have a trusting, mentor-like relationship, but some elements of their relationship aren’t so good: the man offers Sam beer and also sneaks him into his girlfriend’s house.

Sam feels as though he is getting close to having a family at his foster home; unbeknownst to him, they’ve already decided to have him removed from their care. For kids who’ve been bounced between foster homes, this could be traumatic. Kids feel rejected when they’re moved from home to home to home, and young viewers of this film will need to be reassured that there is nothing they can do that would make them lose their place in your family.
Come to think of it, whether you’re a foster parent or an adoptive parent, please make a commitment not to have kids moved from your home. Fostering (and especially adopting) are supposed to mean treating a child as your own. You wouldn’t kick out your own child for swearing, saying hateful things, or breaking some heirlooms – so you shouldn’t kick out a foster or adoptive child either.

Weak Points

There’s lots of tobacco use and some underage alcohol use. There are some non-life-threatening injuries, and one character is struck by lightning (but not injured.) Sam and Suzy both running away from home could also be troubling to some viewers, and some parents will object to their children seeing Sam and Suzy’s explorations of each other. (They are 14, and they see each other in their underwear.) A dog is killed. Suzy and Sam are (unofficially) married by a Scout employee. Suzy’s mom is having an affair with the police chief. Suzy knows. Kids are mean.


There are some parts of Moonrise Kingdom that will be objectionable to parents of young kids, but the movie is shot and presented in a way that at least feels innocent – and maybe a little bit “off.” It’s rated PG-13. With parental guidance, the film could be powerful for kids ages 12 and up.

Questions for Discussion after the movie

How do you think Sam and Suzy felt right before they ran away? How about at the end of the movie?
Suzy views the world through binoculars to make the world seem closer, even when it’s not physically far away. Why do you think she does that?  

Have you ever felt like your life story was talked about by lots of people? How did you feel about that?

When have you wanted to tell someone, “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Sam felt alone – did you see anyone in the film who cared about him? (Suzy, Scoutmaster Ward, The Captain Sharp, Other Scouts, maybe even Social Services.)

How does Social Services compare with social workers you’ve met?

Sam and Suzy both want to go on adventures when they grow up - -to avoid getting stuck in one place. But really, when they say that, neither one of them is stuck; in fact, they’re floating loosely. What do you think’s going on?    (They might be saying this to protect themselves from the pain of feeling like they don’t belong anywhere.)

Why did Sam’s foster parents decide not to have him back? What other decisions could they have made? What would have been the right thing for them to do?

Find this review helpful? You might also like these other Adoption Movie Guides:

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Oz the Great and Powerful

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button



  1. How timely -- my family and I watched this just last night. And your synopsis and recommendations are spot on.

    I thought it interesting that the film anthropomorphized Social Services as a person. I mean, that was the name of Tilda Swinton's character! I liked the scene where she and the police officer started throwing their respective books at each other.

    1. I wonder if sometimes folks view social workers as "the system" rather than as individual human beings. And honestly, I wonder how often social workers view themselves that way, too. And how often they view their clients as "clients" rather than as individuals. Colbert had the "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" - maybe social workers & their clients can have a "Rally to Restore Individuality and/or Understanding."

  2. When I saw this film and Suzy said that horrible line about wanting to be an orphan, I took a pained, deep breath in. I was *very* pleasantly surprised with Sam's response, "I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about." I wanted to thank Roman Coppola and Wes Anderson for writing that line; we need more of that type of response out there. Problem is, this is a "quirky" movie, and can Sam's responses be written off as just odd? Not to mention, this film probably won't appeal to the kind of people who need to hear that line, anyway. It's preaching to the choir, probably, although I do have many new acquaintances tell me how "lucky' I am to be adopted, etc.

    1. I thought Sam's responses was perfect. "You're not a bad person. I don't hate you. But... seriously?" It is a really quirky film, but somehow, that one line rang out as way more "true" than "quirky."

      So how to get this film into the mainstream?

  3. How Wes Anderson stitches it all together is far beyond the reach of most filmmakers. His approach is artful without pretension, gorgeous and composed without feeling forced, charming and innocent but never trite.

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