Director Benh Zeitlin
Starring Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Gina Montana, Lowell Landes
Screenplay Lucy Alibar & Zeitlin
Wink shouldn’t be a father. The fact that he is the father to the incredibly brave and sensitive Hushpuppy makes this point moot. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a story about a people who live in a fictional part of the Louisiana Bayou called the Bathtub. This place is outside of the levees, and somewhat outside the mind of the “people who shop in grocery stores.” She starts off the story pressing animals and sea creatures up to her ear, listening to what makes them tick. It’s a harsh world, with single wide trailers placed high above the ground waiting for the inevitable. The children of the Bathtub are all given a peculiar education from someone called Miss Bathsheba (Montana). She talks about the dangerous beasts that existed back in the caveman time. She talks about the polar ice caps melting and changing everything. How Hushpuppy (Wallis) takes this information is subject to interpretation.
To say that Hushpuppy leads a sad life of destitution would be an understatement. Her life is not without hope, however. She has an active imagination that allows for conversations with her mother as well as other necessary trips into the mystic. She is afraid of being lost in time. She draws pictures on cardboard, thinking it will offer crucial evidence of her existence to scientists of the future. This idea does not leave her, but it does develop into something…different.
Back to Wink (Henry), we see him parading his daughter around the most destitute section of the earth one could imagine, and not only is he teaching her to love it, while giving her lessons on survival in its most basic form. He is a single father, and it is apparent that he is miserable. Her mother walked away at an early age, leaving him to his own devices with the girl. He disappears for a bit and when he returns, they get into a fight. This is when the storm begins.
Many miles away, the ice caps begin to melt, and you see the frozen beasts begin to thaw.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is an entertaining film based upon the book Juicy and Delicious by Alibar. It is directed by first time director Zeitlin, who gives the film a richly textured palette of colors. The habitat is scary, but livable, and the people who surround her are the same. These are people who go where the road does not go…and they stay there.
The performances, especially those of Wallis and Henry, are remarkable. Wallis is a beautiful girl, who presents a tough exterior by necessity. She is all about survival, but the type of survival depends on who’s around. Her father asks her repeatedly “Who’s the Man?” which of course a mantle that the little girl is supposed to absorb. When he is not around, she becomes absorbed by her dreams and nature, which could be the same.
Henry walks a complicated line as an ultimately abusive, man of limited means and even more limited desire for understanding. He stopped trying, and it’s not clear if the cessation was due to his own nature or the mother of his child just walking away.
The best aspect of the film is its willingness to let the viewer make their own decisions on what is happening and why. The conclusions one draws depends on their own experiences and what they choose to believe. One definitely would want to watch it with their kids, if for no other reason than to explain what they are seeing and hearing. The language is coarse at times, but not gratuitously. There is ultimately not all that much to the story, but I am not sure that there has to be. It works as it is, and makes me look forward to the future of Wallis, Zeitlin and Alibar.
(**** out of *****)
Who was your favorite character?
Hushpuppy. She was kind of brave.
What was your favorite moment?
When Hushpuppy probably found her Mom, and stayed with her for a little.
What was the scariest moment for you?
When she burned her dad.
How did you like the movie?
I liked it because it was sweet and…kind of cute and scary.
(****1/2 out of *****)