Beasts of the Southern Wild

Certainly not what I was expecting, Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of the most unique films I’ve seen, boasting a cast of mostly first-time actors who really jump off the screen.

I had intended to see this movie on the big screen, almost entirely because of the great visuals and original musical score. I’m glad I waited to rent it.
Here’s why:

  • While seemingly allegorical, the story never made a clear statement
  • The story also left too much unsaid about the main characters’ past
  • The development of the main characters hits a ceiling early, making the story a one-note song.

We see the world through the eyes of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a little girl raised in the squalor of “The Bathtub”, an aptly-named haven from civilization, seated in the murky waters outside the New Orleans levees.
To the dauntless Hushpuppy and her father, a haunted man named “Wink” (Dwight Henry), The Bathtub is the most beautiful place in the world.
Almost immediately, we are shown why their world is a jewel to them, when the whole neighborhood celebrates together with fireworks, a parade and copious amounts of alcohol and laughter. According to Wink, the outside world enjoys just one holiday each year, while the residents of the Bathtub have numerous celebrations year-round.

The Bathtub is a neighborhood of ramshackle houses that on the inside are little more than dingy playhouses. Here, children eat rich food right off the floor, share the same alcoholic drinks as their adults and are encouraged to brave an impending storm, even if the waters raze their homes. Residents of The Bathtub live in a world of their own making.

While the film features some pretty terrific acting, great direction and cinematography, the script itself never deals with the obvious of the story. Having a father evidently fearful of taking ownership of the real problems in his life and living without a mother, Hushpuppy inherits the unpredictable life of the wild. Courageous even in the face of death, Hushpuppy is taught to “beast it” by a father who loathes the structured life, and raises his daughter with much the same care and attention he gives to his home.

Never is the real nature of their untamed life more evident than on the “Elysian Fields” – a boat decorated with pretty lights, offering deep-fried crocodile and the company of women. What bothers me most about this story is that it overlooks the obvious. While her courage is admirable, Hushpuppy is made to live a life barred from maturity. The consequences of the life her father chooses rob her of the blessings that come with discipline. The movie never touches this subject, it simply praises the protagonist’s inner strength.

Instead of a compass, Hushpuppy is given misplaced fear, and the full life she might have enjoyed remains untapped potential.

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2 thoughts on “Beasts of the Southern Wild

    • It seems audiences increasingly enjoy movies a-typical to Hollywood these days, and that usually means exactly what your brother described about Beasts of the Southern Wild. The last point is especially true – all the characters were tokens.

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