Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Run Time: 1 hours 33 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Gina Montana
Directed by Benh Zeitlin (feature film debut)
Opens locally on Friday, July 20th, 2012
It is perhaps appropriate that Beasts of the Southern Wild is opening on a day that also sees The Dark Night Rises hitting theaters. It is a small film that may end up being lost in the shuffle, forgotten by the masses, and quickly swept to the side. It would be an ironic outcome for a film that is about people who are treated as such.
It would also be a travesty for Beasts of the Southern Wild to be over-looked. Again, much like its subjects.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is not some kind of National Geographic special as the title may suggest, but rather it is one of the most touching, authentic and optimistic films of 2012. As the young narrator tells us, the premise is very simple: “Once there was a Hushpuppy who lived with her dad in the bathtub.”
If that sounds strange let me explain. Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis, one of the cutest little girls you’ll ever see) is a six-year old little girl who lives with her dad in the barren, flood-ridden portion of Louisiana south of the levees, known simply as “The Bathtub.” To say they are living poor would be a huge understatement. They live in wreckage and filth. As we see in the film, they are a part of our society all but forgotten and left to fend for themselves. Their situation is so desolate, you could almost imagine that this film was set in some kind of post-apocalyptic future. Nope. This is happening now.
Hushpuppy learns from an adult about an army of prehistoric creatures named aurochs that killed off all of the cavemen. She imagines that they are coming to The Bathtub. Whether they are or not, they represent an impending doom that faces us all. Hushpuppy must learn how to face her fears.
The story centers around Hushpuppy and her relationship with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry). There is a realism created by these two first-time actors that is palpable. Wink is tough but loves his Hushpuppy. He has lived and faced the harsh realities of the world, and these experiences shape how he chooses to raise Hushpuppy. He doesn’t know any better.
As the story progresses, Hushpuppy learns that her dad is dying. As if things couldn’t get any worse. How then, does Hushpuppy breathe strength, hope and inspiration into this horribly hopeless tale?
There are elements of the incredible 1997 film, Life is Beautiful, in this tale. In that film, a loving father did what he could to convince his son that what they were going through was not bad at all, and in fact fun. The father attempted to shield the child from the harsh realities of the world, almost as an instinct when pushed to the brink. Wink is that shield for Hushpuppy.
Told through the eyes of a child, Beasts of the Southern Wild is strangely optimistic. This tale – told from any other point of view – would almost be so horrible that we may not be able to stomach it. How is this sort of situation allowed to go on in America, the land of the free? Hushpuppy shows that it is still the home of the brave.
Through her eyes, we get a gripping tale of humanity, love and facing ones fears. Hushpuppy is determined to survive, as this is the natural order of things. In nature, you have to adapt in order to survive, and the story of Hushpuppy is the story of making it in the world.
This is a sad film that may make you feel uncomfortable at times. But it is among this year’s best films and stands apart for its authenticity. With so many human and political questions being raised, the film smartly doesn’t give answers or manage to explain the “whys.” It will be many years until Hushpuppy connects with the reality of her situation, assuming that she hasn’t forged a brighter reality for herself. She manages to take the complexity of her situation and simplify it into: “Once there was a Hushpuppy who lived with her dad in the bathtub.” Sometimes, it all comes down to perspective, I guess.
And if Hushpuppy is capable of hope, we all are.
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