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I can understand how most people view this film within the context of Hurricane Katrina. But even as a former denizen of the Gulf coast who sat out Alicia, Claudette, Allen, Rita, and Ike, I view this film in a much, much larger context. It goes beyond stereotype and into archetype -- the denizens of the Bathtub aren't poor drunks at the mercy of the environment, they are The People of the world they inhabit. Hushpuppy doesn't have a drunk father, she has a Father, with many of the faults and strengths of the immortal epic heroes -- anger, pride, genuine love and concern. Hushpuppy herself isn't just a little girl, she is The Child -- the purveyor of a magic which is real, intimately connected with her world, imaginatively linked with All Things. The outside world is a place of Things and Machines, of paperwork and rules -- and is never actually named, you see, because that would diminish it. Everything in this film exists within the realm of archetype, and if you watch it with that in mind, its multiple messages take on cosmic significance. Beautifully shot, beautifully acted -- it's going to take a few more days for the entire thing to completely sink in. Outstanding!
Beasts of the Southern Wild is shot through the eyes of a six year old.
To Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), the islands of southern Louisiana are
a magical place filled with lucky people who do not have to live like
cowards behind the levees and only get one holiday a year. Hushpuppy's
voice-over reveals the island folk rarely need an excuse to have a
party or take another holiday. If this film were shot through the more
perceptive eyes of an adult, the audience I bet would get a much
different take on things. Extreme poverty, alcoholism, and child
neglect are just the first few overt issues which come to mind. It was
a very wise move for the filmmakers to stick with the child
protagonist. Magical realism is far more acceptable and preferable to
an audience than what could arguably be termed child cruelty.
Hushpuppy and her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), live in an area called 'The Bathtub'. It is not protected by the New Orleans levee system, people scuttle around from place to place by haphazardly crafted boats, and everyone expects that some day, the melting polar ice caps will submerge their homes and only the strong will survive. It turns out that some day in Beasts of the Southern Wild is now. When Hushpuppy first hears the thunder of the coming storm, she believes it to the be the sound of melting glaciers falling off of Antarctica. It is never mentioned by name; however, the storm appears to be Hurricane Katrina. Since the main part of her father's and his friends' days consist of drinking, there are no preparations for the coming calamity, just praise for the brave souls staying behind for what they claim will be a little wet weather and catcalls to those fleeing behind the levees. Where is mama in all of this? The idea of mama to Hushpuppy is and old, dirty basketball jersey she carries around with her and sometimes talks to. Every now and then, Hushpuppy thinks she sees mama when she glimpses a far away lighthouse or watches an approaching helicopter. Whether mama is dead or has just run off is another unexplained phenomenon kept by daddy.
After the storm, Hushpuppy and daddy float around in their make shift boat which is the back of an old pickup truck with a struggling outboard hanging on behind it. They meet up with a few other survivors who immediately start engaging in activities they do best, drinking. However, this was not your regular storm. The water is not receding, the animals, even the fish, are dying, and whatever sickness daddy had to start with is starting to pick up speed. Throughout the ensuing scenes to remedy their dreadful situation, Hushpuppy keeps the audience involved with her prescient voice-over. A notable example is her comparison of getting old and sick outside of the levee wall versus inside of it. Outside there is savagery; the young will eat the old and move on. Inside, they plug you into the wall (ventilators). Whenever daddy feels he has been a particularly lousy father, he teaches Hushpuppy to do something such as catch a catfish her bare hands and be sure to give it a good punch when she gets it into the boat. There is also an odd side story involving long extent carnivores called aurochs. They represent the savage beasts who kill and eat anything and everything. The allegory is not readily apparent and its payoff is understated at best.
This description sounds starkly bleak, which the subject matter surely is, but the film is very well put together. The scenery looks like it would after biblical destruction, the actors appear to all be locals and have the accents to prove it, and the music is incorporated effectively. The very young actress playing Hushpuppy is phenomenal. Perhaps a few years from now she will realize just how deep her character is written and how only a very minority of child actors could have possible pulled it off. Her father, while not necessarily a sympathetic character, was well cast and while is not particularly an ignorant man, is certainly a man set in his ways determined his progeny will follow in the local footsteps. Having respect for and maintaining the traditions of your place of birth is one thing, but more than likely, Hushpuppy is being set up for a life of substance abuse and unsteady employment. However, that is jumping ahead. Beasts of the Southern Wild is about a very specific time and place with thoughts only of the next meal, not tomorrow, and definitely not next month.
The camaraderie between our heroes and the locals is fun to watch and seeing how they make the best of a horrible situation is quite creative when you see it as Hushpuppy does. There is a high probability this film will continue to progress with strong word of mouth, end up on several Top 10 lists, and be in line for some Oscar nominations. The film is certainly worthy of the word of mouth it is getting because audiences have really not seen anything like this before, but the automatic Top 10 inclusion is a bit far-fetched. It is winning awards for cinematography, but the hand held camera borders on annoying at times. If there is a party, the audience intuitively understands it is fun. Does the camera have to wildly spin around as well? When someone is running, must the camera bounce up and down too? See Beasts of the Southern Wild for the story, the locations, and the child actor. You will tell your friends about it the next day.
What can I say about Beasts of the Southern Wild, that hasn't already
been said. It's the most magical and imaginative film of the year, so
far. In Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild, the wild things are
in a place known as the Bathtub, a remote stretch of the Louisiana
bayou profoundly cut off from the rest of modern civilization. Beasts
of Southern Wild is an unique vision that sweeps viewers away with
energy, attitude and a full, vibrant, sense of life. Containing
outstanding performances, great cinematography, and a fantastic score,
the film is just so engrossing.
Hushpuppy feels her connection not only to nature and animals, but also to the prehistoric era, represented throughout the film by her interest in cave drawings andmore fancifullyprehistoric beasts called aurochs that have been released from the ice caps and make their way toward the Bathtub at least in Hushpuppy's mind. The difference between what's real and what lives in the imagination of our six-year-old heroine is not always clear, but it's all delivered with a beautifully assured sense of wonder.
Beasts of the Southern Wild unfolds through Hushpuppy's eyes, and it's a sight to behold: sometimes wondrous, often disordered and dysfunctional. It's hard not to see the film through a political lens even if you're apolitical. But there's no stridency here: Fantastical moments and a fantastic script manage to juggle so much with grace. As Hushpuppy says, "The entire world depends on everything fitting together just right." But her world is one where wealth and squalor co-exist all too easily, the discrepancy painfully obvious (even though we don't really see the other world), the puzzle pieces not equal in weight or importance. Yet the hardscrabble people of Bathtub still find a way to channel their joy, even though they've been forgotten.
It's all the more impressive that such a confident and resourceful film comes from a first-timer; writer-director Benh Zeitlin previously impressed Sundance audiences with the Hurricane Katrina inspired short "Glory at Sea." He collaborated on the screenplay for "Beasts" with Lucy Alibar and worked with a cast and crew of mostly non-professionals (both Wallis and Henry make genuinely astonishing screen debuts). That freshness may very well be key to the film's creative success. There's a feeling of genuine enthusiasm and ingenuity in their work here, as if everyone involved was truly discovering the power and potential of filmmaking for the first time.
You have never seen anything quite like "Beasts of the Southern Wild".
It is a film that will have you thinking about the love between a
father and a daughter, about appreciating what you have in life and our
ability to adapt to whatever comes at us. Quvenzhané Wallis is certain
to beat Anna Paquin and Tatum O'Neal out as the youngest best actress
nominee in history. Best original Screenplay is also almost a
certainty. Go in with an open mind and enjoy this unique film that
plays almost like a documentary and yet is full of fantasy elements as
well. This is a don't miss.
If I have one quibble with the film it is the hand-held camera technique that at least in the early scenes is particularly annoying. It usually takes so much from my enjoyment of the film. I get it though, it gives it a more realistic feel and in this film it may have added to the overall experience. Still bugs me though.
Another plus at the screening tonight in Denver was a long Q and A with the talented director/screenwriter Benh Zeitlin, Dwight Henry who played the father Wink, and Quvenzhané Wallis. Lovely people all, and I hope to see their work in many films to come.
As I said, I thought the film is over-rated, over-hyped, formless, basically plot less, and trite. The father is a mean drunk (who still loves his kid), and the kid is a solemn and wise six year-old. Two stereotypes, wouldn't you say? They live in The Bathtub, a shattered but colorful community on the gulf side of the levee. The community is comprised of other drunk people who also love and care about Hushpuppy, the young girl. Hushpuppy is quite precocious, interested in things that don't usually concern girls of her age: the after-life, ecology, such eternal questions as the meaning of life. She of course loves her mean drunk father and all the furred and feathered creatures that live in their little farmlet. There is an air about the film that is surreal. The characters in their madness are a bit like the characters in Mad Max. They are all over-sized and eminently watchable in their enthusiastic inebriation. But I wished for a few moments of lucidity, where people just talk to each other without ranting and raving. The overall impression that I got is one of sadness. There is very little joy -- other than that which comes from the bottle -- in their lives. This said, I enjoyed the movie. It is very watchable, but in a guilty sort of way. Their lives are painful. It is set in a part of the world that we don't normally see, with people we would generally avoid. Technically it is very well done. The visuals are great. I would recommend seeing it but not attending too much to the surrounding hype.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Every year or so, there is a critically acclaimed Oscar nominee for
Best Picture that just leaves me confused because I seem to be
completely out of touch with these experts. Last year it was "The Tree
of Life"--which the Academy loved and I hated. This year, though I have
not seen all the nominees, it is "Beasts of the Southern Wild"--a film
that critics and the Academy adore but which left me wondering why I
bothered watching the movie in the first place. I just couldn't see
what they saw in this film.
Before I discuss the odd meandering plot, I'll address my biggest problem with the film--the camera-work. I understand that this is a very cheaply made indie film, so they didn't have a lot of money for fancy cameras. However, it uses what I call 'the unsteady cam'--camera work that deliberately heightens the sense it's being done with a hand-held camera. Now they do have affordable cameras that will compensate for motion and can give you a nice, steady shot. However, about 20 years ago, someone thought it would be great to have a shot that looks like it was done on an iPhone. All I know is that watching it might easily make you motion sick! Please, please...just give me normal camera-work!!
As far as the story goes, it never made any sense. It involves a young, almost feral child who lives in a horrible little hellish village in Louisiana where everything is broken and old and dirty. I know these people are poor, but this went well beyond poverty. The children learn from a teacher who uses foul language and talks about prehistoric 'Aurocs'. As for the child's homelife, NONE OF IT MADE ANY SENSE. Her mother was gone...okay. But the father lives in a SEPARATE home nearby--as well as in some separate reality. Seeing a tiny child running about a broken down filthy trailer and playing with a flamethrower (of sorts) just brought out the dad in me--and I wanted to yell out that they need to rescue this child from this horrible environment. She also eats cat food. Soon, she burns the place down and then spends most of the rest of the film hanging with her crazy father who was dying. Then there's a big storm and the village is a mess. And, in the end, after treating the child like a pet for much of the film, the dad dies and the child burns him in a funeral pyre. WHAT?!?!?! What was the point?! Who are these people?! Why is this a film I should see?! A tiny little child barbecuing her dead daddy?! What?!? Maybe I am the odd-ball, but I truly hated this film and can't see how it could appeal to the average viewer. It sure didn't appeal to me in any way. I guess the child was good at acting but apart from that I can think of no compelling reason to see this.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I heard a lot about this movie on IMDb a few months ago and its recent
Oscar nominations peaked my interest. So I decided to give it a go and,
not only was it a disappointment, I was actually p*ssed off after
watching it. In some ways, I'm flabbergasted that this film has
received so much praise. But I can also see how it very much fits a
formula of what certain critics and film buffs usually want to spew
praise over. 'Into The Wild' being another great example of this.
'Beasts of the Southern Wild' (BotSW) is one of those movies that comes
along now and then and manages to pull a great hoodwink on a lot of the
movie going public. A hoodwink in that it seems from the majority of
the reviews that the content of this movie and the messages that it
leaves you with seem to have been largely ignored by most people. Those
messages being that things such as child abuse, alcoholism and casual
prostitution are fine as long as they're done against a backdrop of
There is so much wrong with this movie, it's hard to know where to start, but I'll give it a go
1. The Acting: Apart from the girl who plays Hushpuppy, the acting in this film is pretty poor. I guess some of the actors aren't helped by the roles that they're playing: nearly all of the adults that we see for the majority of the film are either layabout drunkards or prostitutes.
2. The Dialogue: When it's not incoherent nonsense being babbled in a thick Cajun accent by some drunkard, it's some pseudo-intellectual, twee, sub-Forrest Gump twaddle being philosophised by a 6-year old. "When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces". Urgh
3. The Story: BotSW drags out for 90 mins, yet the story itself that's actually hidden within the movie would be told in a third of that time. Oh, yes, but that's right, it's not the destination that matters right? It's the journey? And what a tedious journey it is for all concerned.
4. The Cinematography: As other reviewers have pointed out, the hand-held camera work is taken to the extreme on BotSW, to the point that you're almost nauseous by the end of the movie.
5. The Moral Messages of the Film: This is by far the biggest problem that I have with this movie and why I'm somewhat shocked that it has received so much praise. There are many number of issues that I have with this.
The Parent / Child Dynamic: Hushpuppy's father is an unemployed, somewhat unhinged drunkard. He has apparently made no effort to provide a life for his child, as they live in a shack that looks like it has been assembled from foraged and discarded junk. He drinks almost constantly, he beats his daughter, screams at her regularly, he finds out he has a serious terminal illness and yet he makes no plans to provide a life for his daughter after he passes away. Yet, rarely does the director or the story suggest that Wink isn't a good father. His death isn't portrayed as Hushpuppy being freed from a man who may little to no attempt to father her when on earth. Rather it's more portrayed as poor old Wink being freed from the illness ravaging his body.
The Actions of the Protagonists: As other reviewers have pointed out, they make absolutely no sense. Rather than seek help from the mainland after the storm, the main characters decide to try and blow a hole in the levy with an improvised bomb. The suggestion being that rather than lower themselves to accepting aid from "the outside" they are willing to endanger lives of people directly on the other side of the levy and destroy it through their criminal actions. Wink consistently refuses any assistance for his apparent Leukaemia and makes no attempt to provide a life for Hushpuppy after he dies, short of leaving her in the care of a man with an even worse drinking problem than he has.
Them vs. Us: any help offered by kind people from the outside in the aftermath of the storm is consistently treated with utter distain by the main characters. Their rejection of outside assistance is never explored past the shallow suggestion that they are outsiders / not from the Bathtub / don't understand our way of life.
The film is one of those rare examples of every element being extraordinary. The acting, the directing, the script, the music is all superb and blend together to create the magical world of the bathtub. The film looks and sounds amazing. Everything is so beautifully shot, with a crispness and a warmth. The score is used sparingly and is never manipulative. This may be one of those movies that everyone raves about but gets overlooked come Oscar season because it doesn't have a big enough name attached to it or pandered to the Academy enough, but it could easily be nominated for at leave four or five awards. http://amandalovesmovies.com/2012/07/02/beasts-of-the-southern-wild/
Blew away a screening room of industry professionals at the Producers'
Guild New York. Far more interesting than the publicity and most
published reviews. It's intensely visual, in a way that I associate
with visual masterpieces like Avatar.
It's a world of 9 year old girl Hushpuppies and her neighbors and friends in a Louisiana Bayou. They are poor in a way most of us never have to face, incredibly spirited, and far more complicated characters than commonly met in film. They are constantly surprising us in what they do, where they go, and what their world looks like.
Quvenzhané Wallis is only nine years old, never acted before, and gives a performance worthy of an Oscar. She's never acted before, but Benh Zeitlin drew an amazing performance from her. The actors all come alive, as does the world they are filmed in.
the aurochs are also remarkable.
What a gorgeous film. I saw this last Saturday night and was instantly
in love. With family from the bayou, which is where this film takes
place, I marveled at how rich and accurate the dialog was. The acting
lacked in several of the supporting parts, but wow! there was no acting
prowess lacking in the two main characterizations of the film (I also
enjoyed the acting by Gina Montana as Miss Bathsheeba).
Dwight Henry is truly something in his turn as the protagonist Hushpuppy's father, Wink. He is convincing in every facet of his reasonably complex portrayal of a confused and directionless father. He is frightening when angry, smile-inducing when kind, and heartbreaking when both. You may say, "Well, he's just playing himself." In response, "He's not. He may be a father, but he lives in New Orleans and had to be convinced to audition because he couldn't afford to not work at the small bakery he owns in the 7th Ward to go across the street and read for the producers and director." He's a revelation who has unfortunately already stated that regardless of what happens, he's pretty much done acting. What a shame.
Anyway moving on, the real revelation is Quvenzhane Wallis as the protagonist, a girl named Hushpuppy. Never having acted before, she really is something else. Many child acting performances receive acclaim because they are children and you simply don't expect children to be able to act at all much less some. In Wallis's case, she, a 9 year old I believe, deserves any award nominations and perhaps wins she may receive somewhere down the line this year. She acts better than half the paid bodies on celluloid these days and she too lives a normal life in a town, not one in the swamp. The only comparable performance to which I can liken hers in terms of prowess and general effect is that of 9-year- old Justin Henry and the fabulous portrayal he gave in Kramer vs. Kramer. Garland in The Wizard of Oz is too old as is Peggy Ann Garner in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The difference between Wallis and Henry, however, is that Henry was a supporting player in a film in which his other 3 main actors were nominated for acting Oscars, with Hoffman and Streep winning and Alexander losing to Streep. Henry, of course, lost to Douglas though he should have lost to Duvall instead. Conversely, Wallis is required to carry an entire film. She is present in probably 80% of the fantastic film and she is magnetic. I don't usually have an issue with voice-overs in a film, but there are a few instances where I have almost pulled my hair out because they were so bad. Not the case here. Much of Wallis's lines, especially early on, are said via voice-over. This just makes Wallis's job even more difficult. She has to act convincingly without saying much of anything and simultaneously has to make the voice-over sound interesting so that people don't bludgeon themselves to death. It's an understatement to say that she succeeds completely. Her voice-over melds eerily perfectly with everything that she does on screen, something that the cinematographer, film editor, and sound editor also all deserve major kudos for.
One more thing, first-time director Benh Zeitlin's direction is brilliant, though elongated at a few points. His ability to tell the story effectively basically nullifies every issue with his pacing. Many films with child protagonists are hard to follow because the director fails to effectively engulf the viewer in the child's point of view. Therefore, the following "childish" plot action is seen as confusing or stupid or both. Zeitlin and his amazingly competent crew completely succeed at bringing the viewer in the mind of Hushpuppy. We see her father like she sees her father. We see Miss Bathsheeba like she sees Miss Bathsheeba. The sharply divided opinions about the shaky camera- work are unnecessary. The camera work is shaky, but so it the mind of a child. Their minds are constantly flitting back and forth between one thing and the next, they're swaying to and fro, like the camera. Just another way to interpret the inventive camera work is this: Hushpuppy is trying to find her place in the world just like she is trying to find her place in the camera view.
In closing, Benh Zeitlin, please work your magic many times again, preferably sometime soon. This is the best film of the year thus far, and I will be hard pressed to keep my mind open enough to find a film that I think is better than this come September, October, November, and December Oscar season.
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