Beasts of the Southern Wild A Masterpiece

Jared Bowen, an arts and theater critic for Boston’s NPR Affiliate WGBH, highly recommended the film, Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Largely based on his review, I decided to go to the cinema to see it.  I’m not much of a moviegoer.  I might see two films a year.  Last year, I only saw The King’s Speech and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Beasts was the first movie I have seen this year, and wow, what a film.

I went with my daughter who is home from college for the summer.  She too had heard about it and wanted to go.  But here’s a warning:  it might not be the best father-daughter movie and you’ll know what I mean after you see it.  But then again it might be a great father-daughter movie.  The main characters are two first time actors – 6 year old Hushpuppy and her father Wink, who live on a tiny environmentally vulnerable island south of New Orleans they call the Bathtub that is nearly washed away by a Katrina like hurricane.  Hushpuppy, who sees her late mother in everything, including a lighthouse beacon, constructs her own fantasy world to cope with the devastation and poverty all around her reminiscent of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Hushpuppy creates the beasts by making a connection between a family hog and a rural myth the medicine lady told about prehistoric wild boars called aurochs trapped in the ice age who will take over the earth when the ice melts.  There is clearly a climate change metaphor at work here.  She tells the children in the community that they have to be strong to survive and learn how to take care of the weak and sweet people who need help.  Wink, the alcoholic father with a terminal medical condition also tries to toughen up his daughter and teach her survival skills. He shows her how to  catch a catfish in the swamp with one hand and whack it dead with the other and how to rip open a crab shell with her bare hands to get at the meat.

The film is a raw glimpse of rural swamp life that watches like a fictionalized post Katrina documentary with touches of magical realism.  There are no dramatic special effects, even though the aurochs come to life.  The acting is soulful and honest as if the characters are playing themselves.  Quvenshane Wallis, the 6 year old Hushpuppy, gives a performance that rivals Tatum O’Neil at the age of 10 in Paper MoonBeasts is not a fraudulent feel good Disney fantasy.  There’s no glossing over unpleasant aspects of life, no sanitized romanticized imagining of swamp life.  The lines, “don’t cry” are guaranteed to generate audience tears.  Though raw and dark, the film is uplifting and illustrates the value of love, self-reliance and community.

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks for the wonderful review. I will keep my eyes open for it here in Philadelphia.

  2. I’m not much of a movie goer either, but I may have to make an exception with a review like that. Thanks!

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