Faced with both her hot-tempered father's fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.
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Hushpuppy, an intrepid six-year-old girl, lives with her father, Wink, in the Bathtub, a southern Delta community at the edge of the world. Wink's tough love prepares her for the unraveling of the universe; for a time when he's no longer there to protect her. When Wink contracts a mysterious illness, nature flies out of whack, temperatures rise, and the ice caps melt, unleashing an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs. With the waters rising, the aurochs coming, and Wink's health fading, Hushpuppy goes in search of her lost mother. Written by
Sundance Film Festival
More than half of the cast hails from Louisiana bayou country, including the film's star Quvenzhané Wallis, and five others in speaking roles. See more »
Hushpuppy is sharing food with her dad, but she has crumbs on the corners of her lips already. See more »
All the time, everywhere, everything's hearts are beating and squirting, and talking to each other the ways I can't understand. Most of the time they probably be saying: I'm hungry, or I gotta poop.
[listening to bird's heartbeat]
But sometimes they be talkin' in codes.
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Thou will stand by thy society so long as there be ground under thy feet
Not long after it begins, Beasts of the Southern Wild introduces us to a small, secluded bayou called "Bathtub," which exists off the coast of New Orleans and is not included in the levee system. It is a place one could dream up on their lunch-break, as it is largely comprised of water, forestry, and a grand amount of uncertainty. We focus on a precocious six year old named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), who lives a cold, broken life in the Bathtub with her physically and mentally abusive father Wink (Dwight Henry) and her frequently absent mother.
We learn because of melting ice caps, the Bathtub is approaching certain unavoidable doom and will soon be consumed by rising sea levels and the only ones who will survive after the event will be the strongest. When the ice caps do melt, they will release savage barbarian creatures called "Aurochs," whose carnivorous appetite allows them to feed on anything in sight. While this morose future is pending, we primarily focus on the overwhelming between Hushpuppy and Wink, as Wink's father-figure ways are poor and unnerving and how he isn't completely sure how do deal with her daughter's curiosity, intrepid personality.
To begin with, while I can not say I enjoyed Beasts of the Southern Wild as much as some others who have gone on to speak very highly of the picture, I can say that this is one of the most auspicious and ambitious directorial debuts in quite sometime. The style writer/director Benh Zeitlin and co-writer Lucy Alibar take collectively blend the impressionistic style of Gus Van Sant and the artistic merits of Terrence Malick. The world of the Bathtub keenly reminds me of the vivid artistry in Malick's The New World, a film centering on the awkward relationship between John Smith and Pocahontas. The photography here is absolutely marvelous, and we get a sense that this film is not about narrative consistency or specific plot points, but more about evoking the imagination of the director and the writer.
What this sets up are numerous metaphors that sometimes feel like an abrupt change in direction, mainly because we see that some things should be taken from the perspective as fueling the narrative, while others should be taken at an allegorical level. This process can be come tedious, much like in Mike Cahill's Another Earth where the metaphors were the prime concern over things like storytelling and character development. Thankfully, in the process of erecting many characteristics and events that can be taken at a number of different levels, Beasts is wise about showing its characters as those with many different layers, specifically Wink who can be a mean, selfish, abusive drunk, and then turn around and make a somewhat sincere attempt to motivate Hushpuppy. In one scene of strength and power is Wink giving her confidence and motivation by asking her, "who's the man?" with her energetically replying, "I'm the man!" The scene could've corny, but it is buoyed by the two talented leads and the fierce writing of Alibar and Zeitlin.
More and more lately am I seeing films with a child-star left to carry the weight of an entire picture, and if they do a modest job, I feel sort of upset that I must criticize their work (a good example would be the capable Thomas Horn in the incapable Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). Thankfully, Quvenzhané Wallis gives a real, beautifully compelling performance as Hushpuppy, as her curiosity, liveliness, and unique ways generate genuine likability for her character. She should seriously be considered for a Best Actress nomination. Dwight Henry's role is too a difficult one to pull off, yet he handles the almost bipolar nature of the father character effectively and seriously.
Beasts of the Southern Wild works on many levels, but the biggest level it succeeds on is how it shows a society of poor, underprivileged characters who are not willing to change not because of stubborn behavior but because of immense dedication to their world. They look onto the mainlands of Louisiana with confusion, with no hope of ever conforming to the land of the common so long as they as they have ground under their feet. Even if that means ground underwater under their feet.
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry. Directed by: Benh Zeitlin.
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