Beasts of the Southern Wild directed by Benh Zeitlin, written by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin (Journeyman Pictures, Cinereach, Court 13 Pictures, and Fox Searchlight Pictures, PG-13, 93 minutes)
Starring Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry.
Sometimes, pain provides tunnel vision. Nothing else matters, whatever the circumstances. Like a burrowing mole, a sufferer wants nothing more than solitude. When trauma occurs, how do you face it? Do you ignore it? Do you subconsciously let it dictate your life, leading you to avoid facing pain face-on?
Exceedingly metaphorical, Beasts of the Southern Wild provides a wildly stylistic account of suffering.
Hushpuppy and Wink
Beasts of the Southern Wild portrays a fantastical story of a daughter, Hushpuppy (impressively played by then 6-year old Quvenzhané Wallis), and her volatile-but-sick father, Wink (Dwight Henry).
The father-daughter duo resides in a fictional community named, “Bathtub,” located in the Louisiana bayou and excommunicated from the rest of the world by a levee due to a series of previously experienced disasters.
Those living in Bathtub hold a strong sense of kinship; they all understand their connection with nature and carry significant survival skills. Hushpuppy, in particular, takes care of herself during days when her father is absent, perhaps due to his sickness. Keeping herself company, she hosts her imagined mother, literally a basketball jersey, for dinner, and celebrates life quite often with her fellow community members.
But life in Bathtub is tenuous. Due to the levee, the community members are stuck and the melting icecaps ensure a rising sea level and the release of ancient hardnosed creatures named, “Aurochs.”
With the big storm arriving shortly, the community faces certain destruction, either through flooding or by the monstrous Aurochs.
For Hushpuppy, the weight of the world rests on her shoulders as she must navigate a brutal oncoming storm and the fading health of her father.
A Story Told in Metaphor
Truthfully, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a strange film. The narrative does not flow in a standard fashion and key plot points aren’t directly stated. It feels more like a metaphor for Hushpuppy’s pain as she sees her father deteriorate.
Of course, the film carries much symbolism. It’s easy to see how Beasts of the Southern Wild relates to Katrina in location and in theme. The Bathtub community is unable to evacuate in front of a large storm; their entire community becomes submerged after the deluge. These themes closely resemble what we saw before and after Hurricane Katrina.
But even deeper than these evident themes resides a strong-willed child trying to come to grips with severe psychological trauma. With a tensile reality, the film’s narrative seems to adopt the tunnel vision of a suffering child. As reality wanes, the viewer better sees the vulnerability of a child.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is not for everyone. If you need straightforward storytelling, you might want to look elsewhere for entertainment. But the strong performance of young Quvenzhané Wallis is impressive and it drives the movie. If you are interested in a unique take on suffering portrayed in an artful manner, Beasts of the Southern Wild is for you.
Verdict: 3 out of 5