Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
(12A) Running time: 93 minutes
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Writers: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Amazingly Beasts of the Southern Wild is director Benh Zeitlin’s first feature length film, and once you see this magical, moving experience you will find that very hard to believe. Becoming the most talked about film at Sundance 2012, Beasts of the Southern Wild has won praise the world over, and deservedly so. Here is a film that deals with love, life and death in a place called The Bathtub: a forgotten land in the Louisiana Bayou’s where people live each day as it comes, and generally enjoy life. Away from the stress of city life, these people enjoy simple things (drinking, fireworks, parties and eating seafood), and live each day as it comes. There is a real sense of community here, people care about their neighbours and the oncoming threat of a Hurricane Katrina like storm is something they will deal with as and when they need to.
The film focuses on a young girl named Hushpuppy (a mesmerizing and dazzling performance by Quvenzhane Wallis) and her tough but loving Father Wink (Dwight Henry). Hushpuppy is our guide through this often magical land, and her narration is truly something of wonder. Director Zeitlin has presented us here with a view of poverty, illness and hope through the eyes of a child, and any real sense of danger or sadness is explained by a child, thus giving it a whole new meaning. When her Father is in the hospital, Hushpuppy explains the building as follows: “Outside there is savagery; the young will eat the old and move on. Inside, they plug you into the wall” That is Hushpuppy’s description of patients hooked up to life saving machines. Her innocence in the narration is beautiful, imaginative and exciting: at times it will make you smile with tears of joy, whilst at others you will cry simply because the poor girl doesn’t quite understand life yet. Here is a girl who has lost her Mother and whose Father is dying, yet she goes through life with an outlook not yet damaged by the harsh realities of life.
Believing the whole Universe is connected and that she can ‘hear’ animals, Hushpuppy imagines herself to be the key to protecting the world. She is told of how global warming is melting the Polar icecaps, and that eventually so much water will come from this that their little village will be swept away forever. Hushpuppy has other plans though, and she believes she can put things right. Frozen in the icecaps are giant warthog beasts called Aurochs, they were savage prehistoric beasts that killed anything and anyone. When they break free they begin a journey toward The Bathtub, and Hushpuppy believes she can tame them. This, and many other plot devices, are never fully explained, giving a true sense of a child’s imagination. A lot of the film is left open for interpretation and is all the better for it. Hushpuppy believes that “The entire world depends on everything fitting together just right.” So far, it would seem, it does.
However, a massive storm wrecks the village, leaves homes destroyed or underwater and causes chaos. The water levels do not drop, animals, fish and vegetation begin to die and that sense of hope is quickly taken away. Hushpuppy and Wink search for survivors on a makeshift boat, and thankfully many are found, as expected, getting drunk in the pub. The community spirit will not be broken by such a disaster, and the residents begin rebuilding their lives. Hushpuppy continues to believe she can make a difference, and in a staggering display of harsh love, her Father prepares her for life on her own. Wink is dying, and he teaches Hushpuppy what he knows best: catching catfish with his bare hands, living in your own caravan, breaking the shell of a crab. All these things will help Hushpuppy be strong, and the connection between Father and daughter may be questionable at times, but it is clear Wink adores his little girl. A beautiful scene see’s Wink reminisce about when Hushpuppy was conceived, and Zeitlin’s use of camera, colours and narration is so gorgeous your heart will fill up with love. Beasts of the Southern Wild will do that to you, a lot.
The wonder of Hushpuppy’s narration, the harsh love of a protecting Father (witness him take on the storm with his gun to protect his little girl), the sense of making things right, the admiration and need of a missing Mother’s love, the community spirit, friendships, love, hope, it is all here in one joyous, emotional film bordering on perfection. The film is crafted with an effortless brilliance, designed by a directing genius who brings out the best of a bad situation. This is a film not affected by rules because it is a film looking at the world through the eyes of a child. It doesn’t always have to make sense, it doesn’t always have to be real, it just has to fit and give way to good things. This is a life affirming film that will make you appreciate life, it will make you hug your nearest and dearest, it might even make you call up everyone you know just to hear their voice and know they’re OK. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a work of brilliance, a work of dazzling attention to detail and an exciting sense of wonder that will make you wish you were a child again. Life is not always easy, but Hushpuppy makes the best out of what she has. Watching her feed her Father fried crocodile is guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye, and something so simple just might be the most emotional scene of the year!
That is Beasts of the Southern Wild’s magic: simple yet imaginative, realistic yet wondrous, sad but uplifting, dramatic yet calm. It’s playful sense of dealing with the harsher things in life kind of puts things in perspective. The film may not change your life, but it just might change the way you look at it. Powerful, stunning and full of heart, go see it!