Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Release Date: June 27th, 2012 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Benh Zeitlin Actors: Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Gina Montana, Pamela Harper, Jonshel Alexander, Lowell Landes
small, thriving community on the edge of civilization called the “Bathtub” is slowly being flooded by storm water and has been cut off from the rest of humanity by a massive bridge to separate the “Dry World.” Although this collection of survivors resembles a poverty-stricken third world country, the residents are very much celebratory of their existence and don’t trouble themselves with unnecessary accessories. Instead, they simply band together to overcome the crude conditions. Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a six-year-old girl learning to fend for herself, schooled by an elder local insisting that mighty aurochs – ancient beasts that gobbled up cavemen centuries ago – will soon be freed from their frozen tombs when the polar ice caps melt, announcing the unraveling of the fabric of the universe.
She’s ill-equipped for the treacherous solitude when her father Wink (Dwight Henry) becomes sick. He’s abusive and a drunk, rarely making sense even when he’s fully conscious. Hushpuppy combats this behavior with rebelliousness of her own, including lighting her hut on fire, throwing temper tantrums, and frequently speaking to visions of her absent mother. Emotionally, Hushpuppy is considerably damaged, even if she can momentarily chronicle her tale with affirmative commentary. As her father’s health deteriorates and the aurochs rapidly approach her home, she begins to recognize the need for responsibility and independence.
The music never ceases, narrating the nonstop predicaments befalling the miniscule heroine with a poignant xylophonic melody. The film also builds significant moments with little more than slowed movements and fixations on expressions. It’s almost a hallucinogenic journey through a foreign universe – an epic adventure to find forgotten truths amidst the harshness of environmental catastrophes, told from the point of view of an inexperienced youth. This works to demonstrate the nearly unintelligible disconnection between reality and childlike, visual interpretations – creating an aloofness that isn’t likely to be viewed as entertaining for general audiences. Her understanding of morality is astute, however, even if she can’t fully perceive the notions of relocation, technology, or disenchanted sacrifice.
It’s difficult to determine exactly how much of the film is representative of the Hurricane Katrina disaster or if the premise is based entirely around it, but most of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is undeniably symbolic. Much of the fantasy can’t be anything except the wild imagination of a youngster coping with tragedies beyond her comprehension; although it’s never unequivocally defined as such. Early on, perseverance is at the forefront, but the motives of many of the “Bathtub’s” occupants are questionable, as is the endurance of civilization beyond the segregated assembly. Is the setting post-apocalyptic or merely indicative of the realistic catastrophes of global warming? Are these people rebels refusing to leave their home for fear of imprisonment by a totalitarian government, or just denizens grasping onto ideals of possession, no matter how detrimental or demolished, fearful of uprooting, and intent on refusing the help of modernized medicine and rehabilitation? Are the aurochs real? Is this present day? Regardless, the performance by Wallis is quite commendable, showcasing a young actress that convincingly embodies the distraught, innocent, immature, and yet enduring mindset of a child in peril.
– Mike Massie