Beasts of the Southern Wild mixes fantasy and realism in a captivating story narrated by the brave six year old protagonist known as Hushpuppy. Hushpuppy and her dad live in a dilapidated, neglected, and soggy part of the Louisiana bayou nicknamed the Bathtub. Their homes are on stilts, there is no electricity, modern amenities and they still rely on primitive methods of healthcare with roots in jars and old folklore. This poetic film is a very touching debut from director Benh Zeitlin (who co-wrote it with Lucy Alibar). What Zeitlin did best was was casting untrained actors to fill the authenticity needed in this emotional roller coaster. Hushpuppy was played by the young Quvenzhané Wallis who did what children do best, act as children. That is to say, she wasn’t acting. With her narration, we are taken into her world as she sees it. The reality may be that they live in a place beyond the levees and when the storm comes in, there won’t be any land left to stand on, but through the eyes of Hushpuppy the storm unlocks an ancient beast frozen in time, released to wreak havoc on the town. It is through these fantastical images of wild aurochs that the film shines in its ability to capture the imagination of even the toughest critic.
The ferociously running beasts represent not only the fear that Hushpuppy will soon face but also a change in her life as she knows it. Her father, who loves her, but has unconventional methods of raising a child is becoming rapidly ill and wants to teach her as much about taking care of herself as he can. The storyline between the father and girl is where my heart was at the most. Although the visuals draw your eye in and the score sings to your soul, the relationship between these two had my heart sinking. Zeitlin effectively let you hate the father for his blatant disregard for this young child. Who would let a six year old walk around in the forest with no pants on and rummage through garbage every day for fun? What father would wander off every day to get plastered with the local townies and let her fend for herself? It soon becomes clear that not only is their relationship real and in fact close, but it’s what actually helps Hushpuppy to be the strong female lead her character assumes in the film.
When the storm hits, she is reliant on her father to keep her alive. As the water settles and she learns to live in a lone-standing stilted house on the water with whatever refugees the storm spared she slowly develops a tougher skin and stronger backbone for taking care of herself. She decides at one point to go find her mother, who as she put it, “floated away” a long time ago and travels with a pack of young girls from the Bathtub to the nearby modernized world of levees, electricity and live music.
The film is filled with allegory and fairy tales told from the point of view of a six year old girl. She may not have the best grammar but every word spoken was eloquent and matter of fact. Hushpuppy set out to discover her world and uncovered the secrets of the universe. The film is an exercise in wishful thinking mixed beautifully with that child-like wonderment we all wish we never lost.
“When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces.” – Hushpuppy
I give Beasts of the Southern Wild 4 “home-made boats” out of 5
by Angela Davis