Beasts of the Southern Wild

Review No. 381


The Bottom Line: Beasts of the Southern Wild is an offbeat, imaginative, and childliked, but often cold-blooded escapade.

Directed by: Benh Zeitlin
Written by: Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Based on: the stage play “Juicy and Delicious” by Lucy Alibar
Hushpuppy: Quvenzhané Wallis
Wink: Dwight Henry
Also Starring: Gina Montana, Kendra Harris, Levy Easterly, Philip Lawrence

Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures on June 27, 2012. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 93 minutes. Rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language and brief sensuality.

Beasts of the Southern Wild was watched on December 31, 2012.

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.” –Mark Twain

“A movie this heartfelt and imaginative would be impressive coming from any corner of the filmmaking universe.” “A passionate and unruly explosion of Americana.” “A remarkable creation, imagining a self-reliant community without the safety nets of the industrialized world.” These are all terms critics have used to describe Beasts of the Southern Wild.

I’ve never really believed in ridiculous praise, so to speak, but golly, is this high praise, so much that I begin to wonder if I watched the same film that was being reviewed.

Plain and simple: Beasts is a good film, one that is well worth your time and money. Is it a gem? Well…mud was considered a pure form of beauty long ago. Beasts is far more beautiful than mud, so I guess by those standards, you could get away with saying it’s manna from heaven.

The cinematography is the outstanding highlight.

Beasts is the tale of a young African-American girl named Hushpuppy. A poor, lonely child, she’s always lived with her father in Louisiana. She bears a special, unconditionally loving connection to him, despite his hesitance to admit that he can’t take care of her, due to poor health. Hushpuppy lives in “the Bathtub,” a dam that she considers the most beautiful place on Earth, even during Hurricane Katrina, perhaps because it’s the only place on Earth she’s ever been.

Yes, this is a sad, often depressing story. The film tries to create a deeper meaning. Hushpuppy’s fascination with nature takes itself to brilliant levels, as she donates her childlike mind to us. She envisions her father as a wild boar—seemingly hog-like, pugnacious, and bellicose, but deep down, affectionate and caring; it’s a matter of seeing behind the tusks and into the warm eyes. At least that’s how I interpreted it. There’s a deeper meaning in this independent film, expressed a bit more greatly in the top-notch cinematography, that it means something to be an imaginative, innocent child in a depraved, utterly distraught world and a half.

Hushpuppy’s fantastical visions are allegories that run wild with possibilities. One audience could see a “W,” and another may see an inverted “M,” if only it were that simple.

Where Beasts of the Southern Wild runs risks is in assuming the audience will interpret metaphors that represent the half-baked characters in a thought-provoking light. The metaphors do succeed, but the outward story tastes like bread going stale. The film wants to be an in-depth analysis of a father, his daughter, and their struggles–even if we may not find much familiarity in them–and handing out concepts that progress 100% in story, 0% in personality.

In a nutshell, the father-daughter relationship is structured with false intellect. Although Hushpuppy is the creative mind, her father Wink seems like “the smart one.” He’s constantly putting her down and telling her she’s a stupid little girl (unfortunate for a through-the-eyes story, it’s difficult to disagree with him), even physically harming her when his words aren’t enough. When he suddenly admits he cares, it’s difficult to understand whether he’s just had an epiphany, or if it just seems like the right thing to say.

Beasts of the Southern Wild wants to tear you up. For a while, it works well in welling up ten or twenty ounces of salt water behind the eyeballs, with this poignant, disgusting, almost unimaginably realistic tale of poverty. But in the end, all it does is leave an audience cold.



7 thoughts on “Beasts of the Southern Wild

  1. I guess I’m not the only one after all. Everyone seems to love this while I couldn’t seem to see what everyone else was. Using your rating system I’d bump it up to a solid B, but still, glad to find someone not screaming Oscar. Got what it was trying to do and it only succeed partly, and agreeing with you, the movie is amplified through outstanding use of cinematography.

    As a side note, don’t mean to rush you in any way, just want to make sure it didn’t get lost in the shuffle. A new email has arrived from me.

    • I can see this winning several technical awards, as well as young Miss Wallis, the youngest nominee for Best Actress, at nine years old. But Best Picture would puzzle me greatly.

      I did get the email, and I will get to it when I have a chance. Thanks.

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