Beasts of the Southern Wild
Dir. Benh Zeitlin
“Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub…”
Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of the most unique films ever made. It’s the story of Hushpuppy, a little girl living with her father in an outcast island community off the coast of New Orleans called the Bathtub. The opening sequence of the film brings you straight into her world, and as the title appears on screen, you realize that these outcasts are possibly more alive than you’ll ever be. The alcohol, fireworks, and ramshackle shelters all paint Hushpuppy’s world as one filled with life, colour and freedom. Yet all of this is tinged with impending doom: a storm is coming.
The screenplay written by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, two (previously) small-time writers, is extraordinary, with the thoughts of Hushpuppy driving the film forward, due to her innocence, wonder, and strange wisdom (the kind that only children have).
Of course, the character would be nothing without the actor, nine-year-old newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis. Generally I am not impressed by kid actors, and I excuse their flatness as the result of still having a work-in-progress frontal lobe. This is not the case with Ms. Wallis. Her acting, combined with Zeitlin’s directing, quickly suck the viewer into her world. She might not be a typical, perfect little girl, but this is part of her charm. She’s a real child, living life in an impossible situation.
The other characters in the film include Hushpuppy’s father (Dwight Henry) and Miss Bathsheba (Gina Montana), along with the other members of the Bathtub community. Miss Bathsheba is the town teacher and witch doctor, telling the children about melting glaciers half a world away, and how they must learn to survive. Tattooed on her thigh are images from a cave painting of the aurochs, the prehistoric beast that comes to symbolize the unraveling of Hushpuppy’s universe, as her father grows ill, the storm approaches, and the life she knows faces destruction.
All in all, Beasts is a masterpiece. It embodies the romantic, adventurous childhood many of us wish we’d had, while at the same time depicting how unstable and transitory existence is for one little girl. The screenplay, set, direction, acting and soundtrack come together like a well-crafted quilt (not clockwork – this movie is much too organic to be compared to a machine). Beasts of the Southern Wild is a triumph of visionary film-making; a welcome break from the over-produced, extravagant, star-studded cash-machines that take up most screens in the cinema, and will hopefully pave the way for more of its kind.