We still have so far to go when it comes to female characters. For every Katniss Everdeen, we get a Bella Swan. It's disheartening at times. But every once and a while a character comes along that gives me that piece of hope I need to keep pushing and fighting for the complicated, fascinating women on screen I have always admired. Suzy Bishop, of Wes Anderson's latest movie Moonrise Kingdom
, gives me that kind of hope.
She's violent and vulnerable. She's a child wearing makeup more appropriate for a drag queen in training. She wants to run away and get married, but she's packed a suitcase full of storybooks. She's desperate for adulthood but she also spends most of Moonrise Kingdom
trying to create a fantastical refuge for her childhood.
Crossing the threshold between childhood and adulthood never happens in one giant leap. It's a myriad of tiny, unevenly taken steps. Suzy carries this dizzying pain with her and she expresses her violent confusion without a moment's thought. In her, Wes Anderson creates a character who experiences the rousing of her sexual awakening without being sexualized, with unembarrassed fearlessness and unaware na?vet?. Suzy's treading water off the coast of her girlhood, unable to swim out farther unassisted, but, in a bout of proud stupidity, refusing to swim back.
She took my breath away. And If she didn't take your breath away, you need to re-watch Moonrise Kingdom
In the middle of the film, Suzy sits, reading a story, at the center of a group of boys who pay her rapt attention. The reference to J. M. Barrie's Wendy and the Lost Boys is striking. The similarities end there, though. Indeed, the scene sets up a study in contrasts. Suzy doesn't exist to save her Peter-- Anderson's young Sam Shakusky-- and give him impetus to grow up. Suzy isn't there to tidy up or mend the broken pieces. Suzy, bless her, has been making a good portion of the storyline's mess from the get-go. Suzy, runaway that she is, is a Lost Girl of sorts, shepherded home by a team of upstanding young boys.
Throughout Western fiction, girls are understood to grow up and leave home in a way not all male characters are. True, the idea of a bildungsroman remains the central character's quest for self-discovery, often catalyzed by his leaving home. Yes, women's spheres traditionally encompass the house and domesticity, but a woman's child hood home, the land of her girlhood, would never be hers. She was meant to leave that place and go on to be subsumed in her future husband's home. These are the most obvious levels of plot tension in an Austen novel, but they also inform more recent productions such as Father of the Bride
or My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Nowadays in fiction, women often leave home to go to school or start careers. But the end result is the same-- in the fictional narrative, home does belong to a heroine. In order to give Suzy's male counterpart the same kind of wanderlust and uprootedness, Sam Shakusky has to be an unwanted orphan. Give Sam a home and he stabilizes. Give Suzy a home, give her a steady lover, give her what she seems to ask for, and she still stabs someone with a pair of scissors, just as ready to do so as she is to leap from precipices to, most likely, her doom, when all her hopes are lost.
Suzy doesn't wait for her adulthood to arrive and confer upon her her the rights to leave home. No, she walks right out her door and attempts to grasp her adulthood with both hands. But she's not quite there. It's this exact in-between-ness, this exact position of uncertainty, that gives Suzy her strength as a character. Suzy strives to confront her adulthood on her own terms, but she finds, through forces entirely out of her control, she cannot. That's what heroes are made of-- anger, frustration, hope, and tenacity.
As she looks to her storybooks for strong female characters, I hope there will be more stories on film of strong, complicated young women like Suzy-- women and young girls who have trouble understanding themselves and the world around them. Women who handle this tension at times with grace and at other times with untoward violence. Because these are the women we all are or have been.