It was my pleasure Friday evening to attend a showing of Beasts of the Southern Wild. While everyone has been focused on Batman, I have had my heart set on this independent film. Captivated by the trailer, I made it my mission to see this movie, and I was overjoyed that it was shown in my city. At a small arthouse theater nestled off Grove Avenue, The Westhampton – which sort of reminds me of our illustrious and other worldly theater antique – The Byrd – but without the grandness and better seats. Richmonders will tell you – The Byrd Theater – badly needs new seating.
Anyways, it was a packed theater. I was astonished and really pleased to see so many show up for this film. We sat in the back nestled in the corner.
Let me give you a little background about Beasts of the Southern Wild:
Hushpuppy (Quvenzhan Wallis) and her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), live in The Bathtub, a post-Katrina Louisiana bayou, where its thick with the debris of human life, wilderness, and water everywhere which is then separated by levees. The levees separate the Bathtub community from the industrial city.
Hushpuppy and her community struggle daily to survive and this draws the community together. Despite the conditions of poverty their home belongs to them and no other, and as a collective, they thrive but only for so long.
The focus of the film is on Hushpuppy. She is a charming and headstrong young girl, but it is her innocence that allows her to meet day-to-day struggles head-on. Her father tries to toughen her up by not coddling her and providing her with lessons on how to survive on her own. Contrary to her innocence, her ignorance does make her vulnerable in a world where dangerous creatures lurk and eat their own to survive. However, as the film progresses, we see her innocence stripped and watch her mature and tackle overcoming her fears and dealing with idea being on her own to survive. Still, no matter Hushpuppy’s willful innocence and headstrong determination, she is still child that seeks comfort and compassion, which is evidenced as she calls out to her missing mother in times of need. Its these moments that the reality of dealing with two of biggest events in ones lives becomes real – birth (Hushpuppy growing up) and death (Losing your parents).
Why did I enjoy this movie?
- The setting – I grow tired of every place and every city to seem like New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago, etc.
- The actors – The chemistry of the cast is palpable and the connections they forge are natural.
- Diverse set of actors and characters.
- The film’s main character is a child. She’s not one dimensional. Children have their innate qualities but adults are often dismissive and believe that children don’t understand such complicated things. They have a POV that often we lose when we grow up. We become rather judgmental.
- It’s a movie that instills hope!
- The richness of themes.
- Self Reliance
- Free Will
- Independence and Community
- Facing one’s fears
- Respect for life
Those are only a few of the themes contained within this brilliant movie. For those who have seen the movie, I think one thing I found refreshing is that the characters were not black and white. They had positive traits and negative traits. There was ignorance and intelligence – no arrogance. The film recognized the strengths and weaknesses of individuals and places – the connection with nature, the disconnect of isolation and differences. While Wink preached about the disconnection of the levee dwellers, he too was disconnected and has just as much a misinterpretation of the people other side as they did of his own beliefs and desires. No one person or thing was demonized.
If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend you see it. It will make you think – evaluate your life, your humanity, your view of life and those around you. Be a Beast!
Update: I just read a review by Dana Stevens on The Slate. I don’t agree with Dana’s take at all on this film. Noble savage? Really? What we see as savage is subjective. On top of it, savage is a word used to describe primitive and uncivilized people. These people managed to secure electricity. They had vehicles – boats and cars. They had many things that people over in the levee save a few things. I think Dana should rethink labeling The Bathtub community as primitive and uncivilized. Their society and their not wanting to live their home allowed them to form a deep bond with one another. While some gave up in wake of the impending storm, many stayed – knowing that they needed each other. Some might as well view them as foolish. Some might want to look back at when the pilgrims left England to carve out a new life in the wilderness of America. Did this make them primitive and uncivilized? I don’t think this film is showing The Bathtub through rose-colored glasses. The world of The Bathtub is far from perfect or ideal. It’s shown in a rather realistic fashion (with perhaps the small fantastical element of the aurochs – which were a plot device).