Sometimes a film strikes a chord so unique that it becomes something more than
just a movie to watch, but an experience, a conversation worth having; those are
usually the types of rare films we see once a year that secure their spot on top
ten lists and receive award nominations. Beasts of the Southern Wild is an eclectic
film directed by Benh Zeitlin, who is a former short film director. The young film
maker has won numerous prizes for ‘Beasts’ already, including best picture at Sundance
and official selection at Cannes. Both actors in the film are first time actors and
this marks Zeitlin’s first feature film. Whether you take note now or later, this
is going to one of the most talked about films of 2012.
There is a small outlying section of the Louisiana riverbank separated by the large
dam that one community calls The Bathtub. The people who live here don’t confirm
or abide by the normal lifestyle of the fast paced world; they fish for their own
food and survive on little. Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Wallis) lives with her father
Wink (Henry) on the outskirts of The Bathtub. Their relationship is a push and pull
with Wink’s sickness and Hushpuppy’s need for rebellious freedom. Hushpuppy feels
a storm coming but it isn’t just Katrina who threatens to end their way of life;
it’s a much darker beast that will try to separate her from the only life she has
I keep trying to think of another film to reference or compare this to and I cannot
think of anything. Zeiltin and co-screenwriter Lucy Alibar have created a fascinating
world with characters that we view through a snow globe. Wallis, who owns every second
of the film, blasts onto the story and the film world much like Haley Joel Osment
in The Six Sense or Anna Paquin in The Piano. Oscar prognosticators are already calling
her a bite size forced to be reckoned with in the best actress category. Her words
and performance disguise the fact that she is only six years old, but it’s her facial
expressions and perceived understanding of pain that can and will captive an audience.
“Sometimes you can break something so bad that it can't get put back together,” Hushpuppy
says, talking about the hurricane aftermath. Henry, who shares most of the screen
with Wallis, although in a supporting performance, will also be unforgettable come
performance nomination time.
“I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right.”
Those words may hold more value than Hushpuppy realized if this film takes off like
it has the potential too. Beasts of the Southern Wild is by no means a perfect movie;
it has its slow moments, but it’s the heart and imagination of the film that really
works. The fact that a small independent film from Louisiana by first time film makers
is being received so widely and enthusiastically is another wonderful aspect of it.
We see so many films throughout the year that go in one ear and out another that
it’s always a pleasure to find something, even if it’s small, that will keep your
mind thinking long after the film.
Final Thought – A surprising and unique gem that will likely make a huge splash
at the Oscars.
By: Dustin Chase W.
Dr. Donna Copeland’s
When there are disasters, we hear about residents wanting to remain in their homes
despite evacuation orders from the authorities. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a
story about a group of such people in southern Louisiana who knew a storm was coming
and stubbornly remained behind, focusing on a young girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane
Wallis) and her daddy (Dwight Henry). Narrated by Hushpuppy, it illustrates very
clearly the way children think and construct their world, based largely on the things
they are told by adults. Hushpuppy’s father is rather “old school” in the way he
emphasizes the importance of being strong and covering up emotions, calling them
“pussy.” He is a complex man, sometimes appearing overly harsh, sometimes parental
in teaching her survival skills and his philosophy of life, and sometimes very childish
in his reactions to her, clearly indicating to her how trying she is for him. They
live in ramshackle huts (one looks like a trailer house propped up on stilts), with
domestic animals roaming around and debris of all kinds scattered about, in an area
they call the Bathtub near the sea.
Hushpuppy is a spunky child who is a thinker with many questions, and absorbs what
she is taught in school. So when her dad attempts to squelch her curiosity and wants
her to mind him without question, she stands up for herself and often wins the arguments.
She is convinced he is going to leave her, and when he mistakenly tries to reassure
her that will not happen, she lets him know how much she has inferred from observing
him. (He has a life-threatening illness, which he tries to hide from her.) The
actress Wallis is phenomenal in her convincing portrayal of this precocious child,
and Dwight Henry as her father is just as good.
The filmmakers use ancient aurochs to signify the rages of nature that roll over
them and past them, threatening their lives and their property, hence the title of
the film. Hushpuppy is an imaginative child, who keeps her mother alive by evoking
her image and talking to her. The film is well made in many respects, particularly
in that it is often difficult to discern what is really taking place and what is
simply Hushpuppy’s mental creations. Sensory images are so sharply drawn they have
a visceral effect on the viewer. How the characters live and cope with life, their
surroundings, their misjudgments in parenting, and the failures of their rescuers
to understand them are heartbreaking.
I see the film as very artistic and poetic in its approach and its use of metaphor
and allegory. The film was a hit at Sundance, where it was made, and the director/writers
Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar and the cinematographer Ben Richardson well deserve
the prizes they have received at the Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals. Beasts
of the Southern Wild is best viewed in the same manner we are told to read poetry,
to suspend the need for reality-based fiction, and simply go with the flow, allowing
the meaning and the images to come from the unconscious.