Title: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Cast: Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry
The idea that society is headed towards really bad times and that we better start getting ready for this coming “storm” unless we want to be swept away by it, is one that has been very popular in films lately. Take for example Jeff Nichols’s Take Shelter (2011) a film about a man who has these nightmarish visions about the world being engulfed by a horrible storm. The main character in that film starts to build an underground shelter to protect his family from the storm he keeps dreaming about. Take Shelter was a very dark film that used this premise of a coming storm to illustrate this fear of how bad things could get in the near future. Taking in consideration the state of global economy, recent political events and how poverty, gas prices and unemployment have all increased over the last couple of years, it is reasonable to come to these conclusions about a coming ‘storm’. One gets the idea that the whole world is going to go down the drain, flushed down the toilet back to the dark ages. These are some of the ideas that Beasts of the Southern Wild plays with.
Not unlike Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Labyrinth (1986) or Where the Wild Things Are (2009); Beasts of Southern Wild is a film about a child who has it so bad in life that she sometimes escapes to a magical land of her own conceit. In this imaginary land, gigantic god-like warthogs stampede through her town, destroying everything in their path. Now with films such as these in which characters escape to imaginary places, whatever we see in the fantasy world always has a representation in the real one. It’s through these imaginary worlds that the child processes what he or she is going through, to find some sort of sane way to deal with whatever it is they are dealing with. In Pan’s Labyrinth Ofelia had to deal with her fascist step-father and the abuse he was inflicting on the people. In Labyrinth, Sarah was dealing with becoming an adult and accepting her responsibilities in this world and in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy learned that she had no one else to rely on but her own self, the power to solve her problem was always within her.
On Beasts of the Southern Wild, we meet a little girl by the name of ‘Hushpuppy’. She lives in a town called ‘The Bathtub’ which is knee deep in poverty. Her father, ‘Wink’, is the quintessential man whom life has beaten. He is a drunkard, unemployed looser. He takes out his frustrations on Hushpuppy, whom he wants’ to control most of the time. Good thing Hushpuppy is one of these strong willed kids who has a mind of her own; she’s taken command of her life at a very young age. She is only six in the film, yet psychologically, she’s such a strong little girl. She has her own personal points of views about the world she inhabits; thankfully we can hear her thoughts from time to time as she talks about the universe and how we’re all in some small way a part of it. Her father knows how harsh the world is, so he trains her to be strong. At one point he asks Hushpuppy “Who’s the Man?” and she says with the meanest face she can conjure up while hitting the table with her hands “I’m the man!” You’ll end up really rooting for Hushpuppy, she’s the future of the world, but she’s strong willed and ready to battle the storm.With youth such as these, you get the feeling that there’s hope for the world yet.
I liked this idea that the film was putting across; the idea that the world is caught up in a storm, adults are unreliable in their crazy ways, yet the newer generations are willing to stand up to the madness going on in the world. There are these beautiful images of a group of young kids simply screaming at the world, so symbolic, the idea being that it’s the new generations that are telling the older ones that the world is all wrong. They see it for what it is and don’t agree with it. Perhaps this is why Hushpuppy sees these giant warthogs destroying her world. The powers that be don’t look at who they are stepping on, they simply stampede through the world, devouring, destroying, consuming, sucking the world dry.
But Hushpuppy doesn’t just go up against the tumultuous world or giant imaginary warthogs; Hushpuppy also has to deal with her unreliable parent. Wink as he is called, doesn’t do a very good job of taking care of his daughter who roams alone through the world for most of the film. At one point Hushpuppy actually runs away from her father, an act I’ve always approved of if a child has obviously insane or unreliable parents. If a child has good loving parents, they should love, appreciate and listen to them, but if in the other hands a child’s parents are insane, in my book they have every right to run away and find their own happiness in this big bad world; especially if said parents abuse a child physically or mentally. This is an idea that was also recently presented to us in Wes Anderson’s
Moonrise Kingdom (2012), a film
about two kids who turn their backs to the world they know in order to create a
world of their own, sharing books, falling in love and listening to good music.
Aside from all these thematic elements, Beasts of the Southern Wild is simply put a beautiful film to look at. Yeah Hushpuppy does live in the midst of extreme poverty and ‘ugly’ things, but there’s beauty to behold in the middle of the ugliness. The character of Hushpuppy is an extremely loveable one, she’s a delicate as a child can be, yet she is also strong, she’s admirable just for that. She symbolizes our frustrations with the world we live in; Hushpuppy has no problems in screaming at these problems in fierce complaint. As Hushpuppy her self says, the world has to know that she existed, that she passed through this world. First time director Benh Zeitlin is also letting the world know who he is with this impressive first time effort; here’s looking forward to whatever he has planned for us next. Highly recommend this beautiful movie for those out there in the mood for something uplifting, symbolic and beautiful.
Rating: 4 out of 5