I can’t say I’m as completely enthralled with Beasts of the Southern Wild as some of the other film critics, but I will say this: It’s a visually stunning, deep and abiding love story between a young girl and her beloved home in the Louisiana backwaters called The Bathtub.
Director Benh Zeitlin (who scored a couple of Gotham Awards) has created a piece of artwork with this film. You see everything: the beauty, poverty, horrendous weather, and a community who knows how to survive the storms of life, both natural and man-made.
As the girl, known as Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), tells us, “The entire universe depends on things fitting together just right.” But Beasts doesn’t go the way of traditional films, as there’s no linear plot from start to finish. Or at least, not one where you can go, ok, we started here and we ended here. It’s more of an overview of the Bayou and Hushpuppy’s life with her sick (and somewhat abusive) dad Wink (Dwight Henry). Like you’re looking down on the film from above the earth. It doesn’t seem like a movie. It seems like real life. Because it is.
As Wink deals with his illness and mortality, he attempts to instill in his daughter a sense of independence (though most of us, hopefully, wouldn’t resort to physical and emotional abuse to do it). But you can see where he’s headed: he wants Hushpuppy to face the world head on without fear.
Zeitlin’s screenplay was co-written by playwright Lucy Alibar, adapting from her play Juicy And Delicious, though you won’t find any evidence of staging here. In addition to the sort of magical quality found in the Bayou, we hear Hushpuppy’s narration through the film and see her imagination at work with gigantic hog-like monsters roaming the landscape, her connection to her long-gone mother, and her joyful running through the night holding fireworks.
But there’s also politics in this film, too: a gigantic oil refinery and a government that believes it can move people collectively, whether they want to be moved or not (these people do not).
Beasts of the Southern Wild is definitely worth seeing for the visual effects, characters and story, but don’t go into it expecting a nice feel-good movie about the south. There’s poverty, abuse and a disenfranchised community at war with big government.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is rated PG-13 for thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language and brief sensuality.
The DVD/blu-ray will be released Dec. 4, 2012 (no bonus features). Also, here’s a really cool digital flipbook about the film.