Beasts of the Southern Wild
Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2012, USA
Beasts of the Southern Wild is set in Louisiana, in a space cut off from the rest of the world by a levee. The folks who live there refer to it as “the Bathtub”. Five-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her ill-tempered father, Wink (Dwight Henry) live in The Bathtub, where Wink tries to teach his daughter to gather food and survive in the impossibly harsh landscape. He’s sick but tries to hide it from his young daughter. When a terrible storm hits the Bathtub, Wink, Hushpuppy and the rest of the folks in the Bathtub must try to rebuild their home.
It goes without saying that the film is a nod to Hurricane Katrina. Many of the actors in the film are from Louisiana area and were impacted by Katrina. Henry, who is a baker, has said that his experiences living in the area and surviving hurricanes allowed him to bring something to the role that others could not. The film is also a commentary about the dangers of global warming, and the rapid increase in the number of super storms that occur every year.
Poverty is another enduring theme, but in many respects it is romanticized. Residents of the Bathtub are undeniably poor and life would be very difficult for them. But we see the world through the eyes of Hushpuppy, who imagines giant creatures and the voice of her absent mother speaking to her from the sky. A scenario of us versus them is created, and the audience is to believe that life in the Bathtub is better than life “outside”.
The perspective of the residents of the Bathtub intrigued me, but it’s one I ultimately had difficulty relating to. I couldn’t help but feel that once Hushpuppy grew older, she may end up wanting to escape the Bathtub and enter the “outside” world. There were numerous instances where this romanticized façade shattered for me, and it left me feeling sad for Hushpuppy and the other children who were living in such difficult circumstances.
Wallis was nominated for Best Actress for her role as Hushpuppy, and deservedly so. She was unbelievably in the role. At times, it’s difficult to believe that she was only five when she made the film, because she plays Hushpuppy with such maturity and strength. Hushpuppy is a character who has been forced to grow beyond her years, and who has evidently experienced a lot in her young life, and Wallis plays her perfectly. The movie would not have worked nearly as well with a lesser actress in the role. Henry is very good as Wink; I was surprised to hear that he had no prior experience as an actor. Director Benh Zeitlin has a talent for casting actors.
I went into the film feeling as if I might dislike it, but I enjoyed it very much. The strong performances make the film, and the story is very emotionally satisfying, even if I had difficulty with some aspects of the story.