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Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

April 18, 2013

beasts-of-the-southern-wild-movie-posterI have never seen a film like Beasts of the Southern Wild. The kind of story it tells has only been introduced to me in African and Sumerian mythology and folklore. I’m stunned that this film was made, then went on to be seen by millions and even nominated for an academy award. However, my shock and curiosity is trumped by pride. The success of Beasts of the Southern has implications greater than I can even comprehend. Not just for independent filmmakers, but for marginalized groups who usually don’t see themselves reflected on the big screen. The success of Beasts of the Southern Wild proves that six-year old Hush Puppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) may have actually been right when she said one day she will be mentioned in books and literature in the future.

Is Beasts of the Southern Wild the greatest film in decades? Or in 2012? No, far from it. While its story is ingenuous and empowering it’s not a perfect film, instead a further reminder of what a weak year 2012 was in general for films. However, unlike the other films thrown into the category on a whim Beasts of the Southern Wild will be the one talked about in future film classes that deal with socio-economic representation in films.

It’s a fantastical story of “The Bathtub,” a commune on the bayou separated and almost forgotten by its motherland Louisiana. Entrapped by water, the residents of The Bathtub live day-to-day knowing that at a moment’s notice their homes will be washed away when the ice caps of the South Pole melt and the water rises. Some welcome that likelihood as an adventure embracing their home and lifestyle with pride. When a storm does surface, many of the town evacuates leaving the prideful and drunk ones to stay. Among those are Hush Puppy and her ailing father Wink (Dwight Henry), who in the aftermath must pick up the pieces of their broken life. Wink tries to prep Hush Puppy for a life without him, while simultaneously, the ice caps melt and the mythical beasts frozen in the ice return to the surface with a destination in mind.

Filmed unabashedly with a hand held camera, there’s no glorification of the life these outcasts lead. They’re dirty, in poor health, and inhabit homes filled with debris, but they aren’t exploited. These people are happy with their lives, proud of their heritage even, and their joy extends beyond the film. I found myself feeling a deep empathy and desire to cohabit with Hush Puppy and her clan of neighbors. These are people with an energy and life rarely seen. To deal with pain and suffering, they drink like fish and feast on crab legs and catfish all the while singing songs of joy. It’s a lifestyle peaceful enough for them to fear being discovered by others in the city who will take them away from what they love.

Beasts of the Southern Wild depicts the commune in all its grimy splendor and although sympathy might be felt for the conditions in which the motherless Hush Puppy endures, one can’t help but feel proud of her resilience the way her father does. In spite of the wonder of the story and beauty that director Benh Zeitlin exhibits, there are limitations to the film’s potential for greatness. Many characters are featured but lack enough insight for audiences to truly care about their plight and struggles. Therefore, scenes featuring secondary characters at times feels forced and unnecessary. Also we’re left in the dark about the significance of certain elements that are rooted in the film’s mythology: i.e. the jar of dirt and the beasts themselves.

Regardless, Beasts of the Southern Wild is an important film. It not only stars and revolves its story around a group of people usually not represented positively in film, but it also gives folklore a beautiful revival not often explored in film. A debut film from Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a remarkable one. It utilizes exquisite editing in sound and natural lighting that captures Hush Puppy in picturesque frames. Wallis is equally impressive and fabulous at conveying an emotion so realistically natural you’d think it was a documentary. My heart skips a beat in excitement for what the future of films will hold now that Beasts of the Southern Wild and it’s deserved success has done in paving the broken path for others to walk on.

SEE IT. It probably won’t change your life, but it’s a great adventure.

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