• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #159: Suzy Bishop



"I always wished I was an orphan. Most of my favorite characters are."

Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom (2012) is a quirky, awkward little romance that is equal parts Romeo and Juliet and Lord of the Flies. Set on the fictional Yankee island of New Penzance in 1965, it is full of Anderson's usual cast of eccentric characters: A world-weary father (Bill Murray) and his cranky, adulterous wife (Frances McDormand); her paramour, the fumbling local constable (Bruce WIllis); an equally fumbling and equally good-hearted scoutmaster (Ed Norton), among others. Yet for all this star power, the narrative centers on two young would-be lovers: the ersatz Khaki Scout Sam Shakusky and troubled bibliophile Suzy Bishop. It's Suzy who steals the entire film. She's twelve years old in the story, as is actress Kara Hayward at the time of filming, which lends a discomfiting prurience to her smoldering rage and burgeoning latent sexuality. She's angry all the time, at her mother and father, at her swarming little brothers, at the dull provincialism of New Penzance. She's Belle from Beauty and the Beast with impulse control issues and a proclivity to sudden violence.

The adolescent courtship is odd enough, conducted initially through self-revealing letters, culminating in a well-executed plot to run away together. It's not all that challenging - Sam's an orphan at Scout camp and Suzy's parents are disinterested - but for a pair of not-yet-teenagers, it deserves a brusque nod of approval. Their brief wilderness romance is interrupted by an incursion of vengeful Khaki scouts bent on returning a resisting Sam to the fold, but the youngsters manage to repel the invaders. They survive on Sam's scouting skills, eventually winding up on a remote beach where Suzy reads to Sam, and the two take their first halting steps toward a physical intimacy that is innocent, sweet, and inappropriate. Things get stranger as Suzy and Sam flee to the mainland for a subversive secret wedding (conducted for the fee of a tennis ball can of nickels by an elder Khaki scout). A big storm hits, and there are chases and rescues and weirdness aplenty. This is, after all, Wes Anderson, and the strangeness comes with the sumptuous color palette and soulful broken characters.

Most soulful of all is Suzy Bishop. I won't spoil the end of the movie, as I recommend you see it for yourself. Suffice it to say that Suzy, with her knee-high socks and unblinking stares and binoculars fetish is one of the more memorable new characters I've encountered in a long time.

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