Beasts of the Southern Wild
(2012 – Director: Benh Zeitlin Cast: Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry)
Beasts of the Southern Wild is as much a painting as it is a film. A secluded culture, vibrant with life, paints a community so far removed from what we see as normal society. But it’s remarkably loyal, proud, and resilient, making it impossible not to love.
Beasts is first and foremost a tonal masterpiece. It puts you in this unknown (for me) setting and perfectly reflects what can only be described as beautiful dirtiness. The acting, the shot choices, the lighting, everything is in sync. At the beginning of the film it’s hard not to feel uncomfortable and sad for these characters living in slums. It’s that sort of prejudice that this film constantly fights.
The path that Hushpuppy and her father Wink travel is quite amazing. At first, we never see Wink’s face. He’s a mysterious, wild, crazed paternal figure to Hushpuppy. That’s all we know. The film maneuvers its way to show more of Wink’s face as we learn how his harsh disciplining of Hushpuppy is his way of showing her his love. He is training her how to survive. How to not be afraid. How to continue the culture that the “Bathtub” contains. Loyalty and pride are two very large themes at play.
The story starts out in “The Bathtub” right before Katrina hits. Some residents leave, but Wink and Hushpuppy outlast and outwit the storm, making them part of just a few left in the Bathtub after the storm.
Hushpuppy is forced to constantly trust her father, no matter how crazy he seems. She plays make believe that her mother is still there to take care of her while her father feeds her stories about how beautiful her mother was. As an audience we hope that Hushpuppy can eventually find her mother and live a good life especially as Wink’s health rapidly deteriorates. But the story does a fantastic job reversing the audiences desire. When Hushpuppy visits who she thinks is her mother and gets rejected after asking if she’ll be her mommy, Hushpuppy goes back to her father who has always been there for her. On his death bed, they both know that she can survive because of the kind of lifestyle they led. He forced her to be strong, independent, and able to live on her own. In any other movie this would be a sad scene, but I truly do believe Hushpuppy will be fine. She has her community that, not matter how dysfunctional they are, works well together.
The director does such a good job of making the Bathtub’s unorthodox environment appealing that, by the time it’s residents are evacuated after hurricane Katrina, normal society seems backwards.
I honestly can’t even remember the score but do remember it being amazing. It was a very surreal experience. Same with the direction. I can only recall a few shots throughout but can pinpoint the tone and feel of the film. That’s a great sign of direction, making everything cinematic disappear and focusing purely on the characters.
One last note. I know that Quvenzhane recently received an Oscar nomination for her role. Although I think she did an unbelievable job, it’s hard to imagine why she’s nominated. Yes she was great, but with child actors it seems that any standout performances are because they’re good in spite of being so young. It’s impossible to judge the maturity and skill of a child actor against an adult. I think the Academy’s decision to nominated her instead of Marion Cotillard is more of a marketing gimmick that will make people interested in the best actress category. Anyone have any other thoughts?