Beasts of the Southern Wild
[originally published on January 26, 2013]
I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right.
Hushpuppy, Beasts of the Southern Wild
ABOUT: Beasts of the Southern Wild is a 2012 American fantasy drama film directed by Benh Zeitlin and written by Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar from Alibar’s one-act play Juicy and Delicious. After playing at film festivals, it was released on June 27, 2012, in New York and Los Angeles.
Storyline: Hushpuppy, an intrepid six-year-old girl, lives with her father, Wink, in the Bathtub, a southern Delta community at the edge of the world. Wink’s tough love prepares her for the unraveling of the universe; for a time when he’s no longer there to protect her. When Wink contracts a mysterious illness, nature flies out of whack, temperatures rise, and the ice caps melt, unleashing an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs. With the waters rising, the aurochs coming, and Wink’s health fading, Hushpuppy goes in search of her lost mother.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is an extremely good film. I was confused for much of it and often I did not know what was real and what was imagination – maybe that was the point. It is a girl-child’s story and like a child, I was bewildered. Ironically, because reality was so suspect, there was such authenticity here.
I own many films that I watch over and over again. I will not buy this film; I will not watch it over and over. Even though it is absolutely brilliant, this film is hard on my soul.
Like many films out there, there is an implied criticism of dominant culture. The alternative, presented here is far from ideal. The living situation is a bayou that is cut-off from the main land by a levee – living quarters are absolutely filthy.
Hushpuppy is Wink’s 6-year-old daughter. Wink’s failing health combined with his horrid temper and bizarre love for his daughter makes up her unstable world.
They live in separate houses, if you could call them that. When it is ‘feeding time’ Wink rings a bell but sometimes he goes to the hospital and basically abandons her. She pretends an old shirt is her mother. She tries to burn down her house. She hides in a box and writes on the inside for posterity, like a cave dweller, while the house burns around her. Man.
According to what we see; there a torrential rainstorm, ice caps are melting and ancient beasts called aurochs are released from the ice. The community learns to survive by becoming extremely primitive.
There are themes here – pre-history, cave dwellers, and pre-historic beasts. What an interesting play this must be.
Even though the conditions are very harsh and bleak there is a freedom that we just don’t see in the shelter Hushpuppy and her father are forcibly moved to ‘for their own good.’ Hushpuppy’s combed hair and dress feel constraining, the food feels sanitized, and Hushpuppy laments at tubes tied to walls and people when they are sick. I have seen films where mainstream life feels fake – but not like this.
How does one even direct something like this? The action is volatile yet sensitive. Emotions range from bravery to terror. Things are quiet to very loud. The bayou has mud like quicksand, where do you put the camera? Shots are difficult – torrential rainstorms, arid, dry heat, boats on water, cramped living spaces…
Acting…more like BEING. There is a documentary feel to the acting. It simply doesn’t seem like they’re acting. There is a being-in-the-moment quality and frankly, I lost myself in the drama because of it.
All awards it is nominated for should win… The film is nominated for four Academy Awards at the 85th Academy Awards, in the categories Best Picture, Best Director (Benh Zeitlin), Best Adapted Screenplay (Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin) and Best Actress (Quvenzhané Wallis). 9-year-old Wallis is the youngest ever nominee of the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Someone who saw it was cool and detached and found the filth problematic. If this describes you – stay away. However, it was without question my favorite film in years.