(Paramount, Getty Images)
The Bottom LineShould you see it?
Beasts of the Southern Wild features an incredible performance from a 6-year-old who deserves to be seen.Beasts of the Southern Wild
is one of the few movies that shows us a world we never knew could exist. Told through the eyes of a 6-year-old girl with a Don King
haircut named Hushpuppy, the film follows her life in the "Bathtub," a Louisiana Bayou in danger of disappearing underwater with each passing storm. Director/co-writer Benh Zeitlin
does not simply tell a tale here, he envelops us in it. His film is a triumph in the art of editing as his camera navigates us through the dirt and the lush greenery of the near-prehistoric setting. In the Bathtub, humans are meat, just like every other wild beast, and the beasts roam free.
At its heart, Beasts
is an independent celebration of freedom and that makes it a very American film. Zeitlin, who also set his short film, Glory At Sea,
in storm-ravaged Louisiana, seems to have found his muse in the battered state. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed the region, the BP oil disaster further killed the environment and ecosystems. These events caused a massive exodus from the area, but many stayed. Why would anyone remain? It's this question Zeitlin is interested in and he answers it, simply and elegantly.
There is relative harmony in the Bathtub and the people, white, black, young and old are equals and treat one another as such. Hushpuppy (newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis
) and her daddy, Wink (Dwight Henry
), live in a dilapidated trailer on stilts but the old man is usually off hunting or fishing and is always drinking. He is a hard man who spends most of his time onscreen yelling, usually at Hushpuppy. His intensity is not without its merits, however. For his daughter to survive their harsh lifestyle, Wink knows she needs to learn, and learn hard.
Quvenzhane Wallis' first onscreen performance is an incredible one. Her authenticity is riveting and there are stretches that feel like a documentary. She laughs, screams and cries in equal amounts while wearing very little and spending nearly all the film outside in the harsh elements of Lousiana's bayou. She provides the film with an elegant voice-over and leads the story at every turn. Dwight Henry, another non-actor onscreen for the first time, is similarly impressive. His character is not an easy one to play and Henry brings the real world anger and ferocity that drives a man like Wink.
Zeitlin works from the ground up, following Hushpuppy through the rain and mud as she makes her way around the area in her white rubber boots and underwear. She is a cerebral child, constantly narrating her thoughts as a series of events impacts her life. The child thinks she causes them all, carrying the weight of the world with her, she asks her deceased mother, "Mama, is that you? I've broken everything."
In fact she has not, her world teeters on the brink of
annhilation but it's the only world she knows, and thus, assumes all responsibility. Her imagination conjures visions of aurochs, giant prehistoric beasts which awaken from years frozen in ice to run free in the Bathtub. Animals are constantly onscreen: chickens, dogs, alligators, crabs, prawns... all part of the world Zeitlin has created here. As in Children of Men
, which features dogs in nearly every shot to display the devolution of a future society, humans and animals are on equal footing in Beasts of the Southern Wild
. It is a universe apart, a third-world society in present day Louisiana.Beasts
recalls Harmony Korine
in its dark uncomfortable reality. It recalls Ramin Bahrani
's Chop Shop
in the way it follows the narrative of a youngster in a poverty-stricken environment. Zeitlin's influences show up everywhere and it's a credit to him he has made such an original film despite them. His story is about unconditional love, death, and preparing for death, protection and vulnerability. The film's many profound themes color the narrative so forecfully it's impossible not to feel something after leaving the theater.
"When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces, I see that I'm a little piece of a big big universe."
"The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece, the entire universe will get busted."
Hushpuppy's words echo in narration and recall Linda Manz's beautiful voice-over work in Terrence Malick
's Days of Heaven
. Zeitlin and cinematographer Ben Richardson have actually created a very Malick-looking film. The camera sweeps over the land and his artisitic shots pause and ponder, nudging the audience towards an intellectual place that will no doubt leave the thoughtless unfulfilled. This film is not for the bubblegum poppers, it's a cerebral experience that is hard to watch at times, but continuously stays viscerally engaging on many levels.
See more photos of the cast of Beasts of the Southern Wild