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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.
*** 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.
*** 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.
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 ***
I watched this film carefully, twice. Apparently, liberal reviewers got caught up in the notion of a "natural, mixed-ethnic local community" in Katrina-land and concentrated on the themes of community, family, and the triumph of "naturalness" over "modernity." These are important themes, if dealt with in a coherent, sensitive, intelligent fashion. However, this film offers none of these qualities. In giving the film high ratings, many reviewers ignored the film's countless flaws and negative aspects, including idiotic (at times phony-mystical) dialogue, acceptance of child abuse, alcohol abuse, and sheer stupidity, glorification of prostitution, and romanticizing pervasive squalor. A key moment of "triumph" in the film involves the filthy, ragtag assortment of characters physically assaulting a group of public health workers who are trying to assist them. I ask any New York Limousine Liberal reviewer who found this mess to be "uplifting" to answer the following -- would you allow any of the central characters in this film to reside in your apartment building? (Of course they would not.) Oh --- the central character is a very graceful and beautiful young child actress, Quvenzhané Wallis. Her main "acting" consists of grimacing at the camera. I found her to be more puzzling than convincing, and (literally) she has about one-tenth the acting chops of Dakota Fanning at the same age, who did more with her eyes alone in any one minute on camera than Miss Wallis does in the entire movie. Standing there looking sullen when you are supposed to be experiencing a run of emotion is not acting, no matter how adorable you are.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I do not consider myself unsophisticated. I appreciate the works of Cocteau, Bunuel, Fellini, even Ionesco. But I am certain that incomprehensibility does not equal art. I cannot express how truly bad this was. The characters had no development, no motivation for their action, and spoke dialogue so random as to make me wonder if my hearing was going. Technically the picture quality was abut that you would expect of a $100 digital camera and the 'arty' scene composition was about the kind of thing you might get by giving a 3-year old a videocam- wildly shaky with lots of closeups of peoples shoulders, butts, and random floorboards. The plot (as it were) had very disturbing flashes of child abuse, mixed messages about alcohol abuse and prostitution and a very weird segment posing aide workers trying to help starving, sick, and drowning people in the role of as some kind of evil aliens. Oh yeah, there was some kind of eco-message and a little very bad magical realism thrown is to make us all feel like were in the same philosophical boat as the idiotic characters. The sad thing is what a waste of potential this was. It has a wonderful child actor and a good cast in general. They get a couple of stars. The rest should be dealt with like a horse with a broken leg.
What is so difficult to understand? If we suspend belief for Spiderman,
The Hulk and King Kong why can't we believe in this story?
I wonder whether some viewers are so addicted to the rhythm of plot driven movies to render them unable to appreciate a story like this, a story that sees the world through the eyes of a child who knows nothing of what we know. If you are one of those, go read somewhere else. I am not going to give you a synapse but my humble opinion on its meaning and possibly its intent. Or more surely, what I got out of it.
The beauty of this movie lies in Hushpuppy, a child young enough to be nonjudgmental, and her vision of life and its inhabitants. She has her own wisdom and is, like all children, taking things quite literally.
At first the hand-held camera-work and insufficient light-fill to illuminate the deep shades gave me the impression that this was a documentary style movie, a story reporting the lives of a group of people living off the grid in some southern state of the United States. But when I understood that the "Beasts" of the title was not a judgment of the movie's humans and their poverty, their ignorance, their unsophistication- but only an alternate noun for "animals" which the protagonists calls both her pets and humans alike, I started seeing the movie for what it really is: A dream, a fantasy, an imaginary story that merged with the contemporary awareness of global warming, and so a low tech sci-fi prediction of how the world may soon become.
With that key I read most character's actions: the father figure who needs to train his child to survive, inciting her "to show her guns" and be self assured; the woman who teaches children the use of herbs to cure, the meaning of magic and mythology; the tolerance of the other adults for what, in a parallel reality, would definitively been child abuse. All this is righteously done to prepare the children to survive in a world that was(is?) going from merely hard to impossible.
Wink's seemingly unsentimental and insensitive behavior towards the little wee child makes then perfect sense and thus his letting go when she can keep at bay, the Aurochs (a metaphor for her still childlike imagination) and her ability to step out of that world and into that of an adult ("I've got to take care of mine now") is the proof that she had grown up enough to survive on her own.
Looking back to it, this movie is a miracle as improbable as that of La Vita é Bella, where Benigni infused humor in a story about the Holocaust without becoming offensive or demeaning. Beasts of a Southern Wild is able to merge a child's world with that of an adult; to make us see how the effects of global warming will challenge the lives of many; it is a comment and a reminder of Katrina, its victims and consequences; finally it is a poetic way of describing the world and its inhabitants, escaping the ugliness and despair of certain realities by converting it into hope, survival and beauty.
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