(A) story of destruction, is also a story of rebirth—of couples paired off under divine authority. “Moonrise Kingdom” poses a vast question: Who are the righteous? Those whose love is true and beautiful. It’s proven true by their readiness to face danger, even death; it’s proven beautiful by their sense of style, which, in Anderson’s world, is the touchstone of great emotion and the noble expression of it—the conversion of great emotion into great and good works, and thereby into the improvement of the world through its beautification.
There’s a morality to beauty, and the sublimity of the young lovers’ idyll has a practical effect on other, adult lovers. One of the film’s sweetest themes is the idealism of young love and how life’s trials make it easy to lose and tough to recapture. Music, books, art, fashion, and all sorts of beautiful objects are seen here as the food of love—a feast that lovers themselves prepare, and for which they gather the ingredients on the wild side. Anderson’s style has never reached as celestially high or approached the skin as tenderly or the soul as intimately as it does here—nor has it ever reflected back onto itself with as poignant a self-consciousness, even self-revelation.
“No one living has enough emotion and vigor to fight the inevitable and, at the
same time, enough left over to create a new life. Choose one or the other. You
can either bend with the inevitable sleetstorms of life—or you can resist them
“My films are intended as polemical statements against the American ‘barrel down’ cinema and its dis-empowerment of the spectator. They are an appeal for a cinema of insistent questions instead of false (because too quick) answers, for clarifying distance in place of violating closeness, for provocation and dialogue instead of consumption and consensus.”—Michael Haneke
“Isn’t it beautiful?” asks Emmanuelle Riva’s elderly, withering Anna while flicking through a photo album at the kitchen table. “What?” asks her doting husband George, heartbreakingly played by the great Jean-Louis Trintignant. “Life,” she replies, with a pensive sigh.
It’s hard to believe that this dialogue exchange appears in a film with Michael Haneke’s name on the opening credits, but it does, and Love, which played in the competition at Cannes, is by some distance the director’s most direct and humane work, and as the title suggests, is a film primarily concerned with love and compassion despite telling a story about death and suffering.
For here love is depicted as a the ultimate test of endurance, sacrifice and torment, as George is left to watch helplessly as his wife slowly, inexorably slips away from him.
“Good things come from a quiet place: study, prayer, music, transformation, worship, communion. The words ‘peace’ and ‘quiet’ are all but synonymous, and are often spoken in the same breath. A quiet place is the think tank of the soul, the spawning ground of truth and beauty.” Trent Gilliss,
For all but our most recent history, dying was typically a brief process. Whether the cause was childhood infection, difficult childbirth, heart attack, or pneumonia, the interval between recognizing that you had a life-threatening ailment and death was often just a matter of days or weeks. Consider how our Presidents died before the modern era. George Washington developed a throat infection at home on December 13, 1799, that killed him by the next evening. John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and Andrew Johnson all succumbed to strokes, and died within two days. Rutherford Hayes had a heart attack and died three days later. Some deadly illnesses took a longer course: James Monroe and Andrew Jackson died from the months-long consumptive process of what appears to have been tuberculosis; Ulysses Grant’s oral cancer took a year to kill him; and James Madison was bedridden for two years before dying of “old age.” But, as the end-of-life researcher Joanne Lynn has observed, people usually experienced life-threatening illness the way they experienced bad weather—as something that struck with little warning—and you either got through it or you didn’t.
Dying used to be accompanied by a prescribed set of customs. Guides to ars moriendi, the art of dying, were extraordinarily popular; a 1415 medieval Latin text was reprinted in more than a hundred editions across Europe. Reaffirming one’s faith, repenting one’s sins, and letting go of one’s worldly possessions and desires were crucial, and the guides provided families with prayers and questions for the dying in order to put them in the right frame of mind during their final hours. Last words came to hold a particular place of reverence.
These days, swift catastrophic illness is the exception; for most people, death comes only after long medical struggle with an incurable condition—advanced cancer, progressive organ failure (usually the heart, kidney, or liver), or the multiple debilities of very old age. In all such cases, death is certain, but the timing isn’t. So everyone struggles with this uncertainty—with how, and when, to accept that the battle is lost. As for last words, they hardly seem to exist anymore. Technology sustains our organs until we are well past the point of awareness and coherence. Besides, how do you attend to the thoughts and concerns of the dying when medicine has made it almost impossible to be sure who the dying even are? Is someone with terminal cancer, dementia, incurable congestive heart failure dying, exactly?
This is a modern tragedy, replayed millions of times over. When there is no way of knowing exactly how long our skeins will run—and when we imagine ourselves to have much more time than we do—our every impulse is to fight, to die with chemo in our veins or a tube in our throats or fresh sutures in our flesh. The fact that we may be shortening or worsening the time we have left hardly seems to register. We imagine that we can wait until the doctors tell us that there is nothing more they can do. But rarely is there nothing more that doctors can do. They can give toxic drugs of unknown efficacy, operate to try to remove part of the tumor, put in a feeding tube if a person can’t eat: there’s always something. We want these choices. We don’t want anyone—certainly not bureaucrats or the marketplace—to limit them. But that doesn’t mean we are eager to make the choices ourselves. Instead, most often, we make no choice at all. We fall back on the default, and the default is: Do Something. Is there any way out of this?
(She) and her father had the conversation that we all need to have when the chemotherapy stops working, when we start needing oxygen at home, when we face high-risk surgery, when the liver failure keeps progressing, when we become unable to dress ourselves. I’ve heard Swedish doctors call it a “breakpoint discussion,” a systematic series of conversations to sort out when they need to switch from fighting for time to fighting for the other things that people value—being with family or travelling or enjoying chocolate ice cream. Few people have this discussion, and there is good reason for anyone to dread these conversations. They can unleash difficult emotions. People can become angry or overwhelmed. Handled poorly, the conversations can cost a person’s trust. Handled well, they can take real time.