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Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012)
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
No reasons given
Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry
Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
In a forgotten but defiant bayou community cut off from the world by a sprawling levee, six year-old Hushpuppy exists on the brink of orphanhood. Her mother long gone, and her father Wink a wildman on a perpetual spree, Hushpuppy is left to her own devices on an isolated compound filled with a forgotten but defiant bayou community cut off from the world by a sprawlinglevee, six year-old Hushpuppy exists on the brink of orphanhood. Her motherlong gone, and her father Wink a wildman on a perpetual spree, Hushpuppy is left to her own devices on an isolated compound filled with semi-feral animals. She perceives the natural world to be a fragile web of living, breathing, squirting things, in which the entire universe depends on everything fitting together just right. So when a hundred year storm raises the waters around her town, her daddy is suddenly stricken with illness, and fierce pre-historic creatures awaken from their frozen graves to come charging across the planet, Hushpuppy sees the natural order of everything she holds dear collapsing around her. Desperate to repair the structure of her world in order to save her ailing father and sinking home, this tiny hero must learn to survive an unstoppable catastrophe of epic proportions.
Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012) | Review
Everything Fitting Together Just Right
Hushpuppy is a young girl who lives with her father on a small island in the Louisiana backwater. There is a small community that seems to thrive in this isolation. In many ways this is a life of dire poverty. On the other hand, there is joy in this community, even in the hardest of times. Hushpuppy contrasts the life here in "The Bathtub" with life on the dry side of the levee: People on the dry side are afraid of water, but in The Bathtub, that is their everyday environment. The dry folks only have one or two holidays, but this community frequently celebrates just because they can.
When a storm comes, some of The Bathtub people leave, but others, including Hushpuppy and her father, persevere in spite of the danger. After the storm, they all come together to care for one another and to celebrate the life they have, meager though it is.
There is a sense in which The Bathtub is an interface between Paradise and Chaos. This is a place of great beauty. The people here are in a certain harmony with creation. Hushpuppy especially seems to be connected to the natural world. Often we see her listening to the small animals she comes across. There is a section of the film in which Hushpuppy and the rest are removed from The Bathtub. The world they are taken too (our world) seems very cold and sterile, even though we understand it as a place of safety and ample food. But for Hushpuppy and the rest, it is being taken to a strange land that will likely stifle the joys that fill their lives.
It is Hushpuppy's philosophical reflection that makes up the heart of the film—more so than the plot (again, a similarity to The Tree of Life). But whereas The Tree of Life was closely tied to biblical and theological contemplation, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a more humanistic approach to thinking about our place in the cosmos. Hushpuppy is not the center of the universe, but because of her recognition of how all things fit together, she understands herself (and us all) as an integral part of the universe—a piece of a whole that will not properly function without any particular piece. The harmony of the universe depends on each piece doing what it is meant to do.
There is a bit of magical realism that runs side by side with the stark realism of the film. We see the brokenness of the universe through the coming of aurochs, mythical beasts that we see on a relentless trek to possibly destroy everything. In an ecosystem as fragile as The Bathtub, it is not hard to equate them with the threat of climate change, but it can just as easily be understood as the way the world is broken by injustice, poverty, war, even the relentlessness of death. (Good metaphors are often up to the viewer to assign meaning to.)
Hushpuppy also has one to cry out to in times of fear, her absent mother who "swam away" long ago. When she faces her deepest fear, she and other children go off on a quest across the waters. There, perhaps Hushpuppy finds her lost mother, and brings back a gift from her that serves as a bit of Eucharist between her and her father.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is indeed a challenging film. There is much to be mined in the film, but even those who dig deeply may not find the kinds of treasure they expect or like. There will be those, however, who will discover a wisdom worth consideration.
Copyright © 2012 Hollywood Jesus. All rights reserved.
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