A critical exploration of the cinematic work of Fleischer and Anderson and its function in American mythopoeics.
Moonrise Kingdom is classic Anderson, a carefully cultivated cornucopia of kitsch that unwinds into a surreal coming-of-age fable. Zombieland is a rollicking and witty commentary on the zombie genre — though its “zombies” aren’t the classic living dead, but merely the virus-infected living.
After watching both movies in short succession, I realized that they are really the same movie. Though filmed in drastically different styles, the similarities between the two films are numerous:
- Both offer an incisive deconstruction of their respective genres (zombie apocalypse and young adult adventure).
- Both use the distorted lenses of their unique worlds to offer commentary on ours.
- Both readily break the fourth wall, reinforcing the mythic nature of the stories.
- Both are replete with indulgent set-pieces that serve as dramatic interludes and visual eye-candy.
- Both are coming-of-age tales that explore the awkward transitions to adulthood.
- Both feature an orphan on a journey in search of love and meaning in life.
- Both orphans follow careful rules to get them through their journeys.
- Both journeys are toward an idealized destination — an escape from the trials of everyday life to a land of serenity and safety.
- Both pit a small family of protagonists against hoards from the outside world.
- Both dash the dreams of their characters by unwelcome intrusions from outsiders.
- Both feature Bill Murray in a supporting role.
- Both include a pivotal scene involving a violent attack with scissors.
- Both are a bit too self-aware — inviting the viewer in with a wink and a nudge but never moving far beyond a deliberately self-conscious message.
Yet despite these similarities, these are still very different movies in terms of visual execution. Anderson’s obsession with arcane details and cinematographic virtuosity finds no parallel in Zombieland and Fleischer favors crude humor and zombie gore over the subtleties of Moonrise Kingdom.
I recommend both movies — they each unabashedly deliver on what they promise. It was only by accident that I watched them together; they certainly aren’t a conventional pairing. But I did find the similarities fascinating — both as examples of random synchronicity and also as evidence that there truly are only a few stories in the world, though seemingly endless variations on those tales.