Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts_of_the_Southern_Wild

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” premiered last January at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic films. At Cannes, it won the The Caméra d’Or (“Golden Camera”), which is awarded for the best first feature film (this is director Benh Zeitlin’s first feature-length film). It also won the similarly purposed Sutherland Award, awarded by the British Film Institute. Sight & Sound and AFI have both listed the film amongst their Bests of 2012.

With so many critical accolades showered upon it, I knew I had to see it before the year was out. I’m certainly glad that I did. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a challenging, moving, thought-provoking film that certainly deserves to be included in the discussion of the year’s best.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” provokes thought right from the opening moments. Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), the film’s six-year-old protagonist, walks about her destitute environs, listening to the heartbeats of the animals in her yard, narrating that every animal’s heart beats. She soon joins the other residents of her shanty dwelling, bayou community in a party and informs us, “The Bathtub has more holidays than the whole rest of the world.”

The tone is set going forward. Our six-year-old heroine will narrate, with her “wisdom of a child” point of view, as she faces the hardships and squalor around her.

A bigger challenge for Hushpuppy than the extreme poverty of her bayou community is that her father is neglectful. What attention he does afford her is intended to toughen her up and prepare her for the hardships she’s to face in life. Above and beyond the necessity to handle her Darwinian environs, however, he knows that she may need to be ready to survive on her own sooner than she’d like.

He’s sick.

Much of the tension of the film is derived from watching the young Hushpuppy wander about unsupervised. She’s far younger than the age that most… civil societies would let their children roam about the world completely free, and indeed, she gets into considerable danger. She’s almost in as much danger when she’s with her father though. While not… straight up abusive, he’s certainly extremely harsh. You get the feeling he needs to be, however. Life in the “Bathtub” is difficult. They live in the barest of shelters, and feed off of the animals they raise and the seafood they can catch. They’re even more susceptible than most to the wrath of storms, living right on the edge of the gulf and with little to protect them. And indeed, when a storm hits (Katrina?), things change dramatically for the residents of the “Bathtub”.

The simplicity of “Beasts” lends itself to contemplation. Obviously there are environmental issues at hand, and socio-economic differences on display. But it’s also a stark reminder of our bestial nature… we are, still – no matter how civilized or cultured – still animals under the jurisdiction of nature. It also illustrates the beauty and power of life, and the strength inherent in children… and us all. It’s a quietly powerful, moving film that leaves us a lot to ponder. Viewers will undoubtedly be finding their own connections to Hushpuppy’s struggles, seeing metaphors, and extrapolating her attributes and experiences out to humanity as a whole.

On the basest level, we’re all just children in the ‘Tub.

Young Quvenzhané Wallis is a force to be reckoned with as Hushpuppy. It doesn’t seem as if she’ll be one of those child stars who score a big awards season nom (She’s not on the SAG or Golden Globe nominees listings), but in my opinion she certainly could have been. She’s alternately strong and scared, but always a child. At times, you’ll feel for her being a child in these circumstances. At others, you’ll be in awe of her capabilities and fortitude. Dwight Henry, as her father, is not a professional actor (or at least, wasn’t when this was shot), but you’d be hard pressed to pick up on it here if you didn’t know. He, too, turns in a powerful performance as a man struggling to do the best he can under difficult circumstances, in a culture and a lifestyle that’s completely foreign to those of us living in comfort in the modern world.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is close to a movie about modern cavemen, but by stripping away all but the basest comforts, we get a look at the very core of humanity. What we are, what we truly need, and what we’re capable of.

A+

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42 thoughts on “Beasts of the Southern Wild

  1. Undoubtedly one of my favorite films of 2012. I’m glad you liked it, because it doesn’t sit well with everyone. Definitely best score …I can’t stop listening to it. I’m hoping the Academy acknowledges Henry and Wallis. Outstanding performances by non-actors!!

    • Cool, Courtney! Yeah, me too… I think its a super longshot, but Wallis definitely deserves all the recognition that comes her way. I know she’ll be in that mix for MY year end awards at least LOL.

      I have to confess, I think I was so caught up in it I didnt even take note of the score :( I’ll have to keep an eye ear out next time! :D

    • Damn, second person to bring up the score, and I dont even recall it. I feel like I was tuned out! LOL :(

      Yeah, I really dug this Sati. She was amazing, yeah, but this is one of those movies that’s really easy to read stuff into… and I’m a sucker for that. LOL ;)

      • Oh, don’t worry it happens at times. I mean I loved Argo but whenever it gets nomination for best original score I’m just shocked – I don’t remember any music in this movie.

    • Aw, cmon man, I’m a softee. I fell like I hand out as and A+s left and right. :D LOL.

      You should check this out though. Its definitely a winner. Very very thought provoking, beautifully shot, imaginative… just an all around winner. :D

  2. Good review Dan. It’s not a perfect movie for me, but I still enjoyed the original vision and ideas that this director uses. Seriously, it made me sick, but still kept me interested and intrigued the whole-way through.

  3. YAY! I loved it too!
    An truly American story told with an unflinching, truthful perspective. Very powerful! One of the year’s best.
    It’s a shame it may go unrecognized during award season.
    Happy Holidays!

    • Happy Holidays to you too Nedi…

      I dont know that its going to go unregonized… we’ll see. I wouldnt be shocked if it got a best picture nom (although I cant see it winning…). Plus, geez, making AFI and Sight & Sound’s top tens is some pretty serious stuff! The buzz is out there for it, now I just hope people find their way to it.

      Glad you liked it too!

  4. Honestly it took me about 24 hours to fully appreciate this movie, but after that 24 hours I absolutely loved it. I agree about Wallis getting snubbed,I’m honestly a little surprised seeing as most awards have a tendency to recognize younger actors and actresses if nothing else for sheer interest value.

    Great review :)

    • Thanks Andy. Yeah, crazy flick, wasn’t it? Its a pretty powerful experience… there’s a lot to mull over, I can see how it could take some time to digest.

      Glad I was able to get it in in 2012… we’ll see if Wallis gets any awards season love, but you know, she’s still a kid, so that kind of thing is rare, I suppose. :(

  5. I think it’s a wonderful fable. It feels very spontaneous but, as we see in the bonus feature, they did have a script. Quvenzhané Wallis even objects to the cursing in the screenplay. Perhaps Quvenzhané Wallis is not set for a life in the Hollywood fastlane but she’s only 5 or 6 years-old! She’ll do fine. I provide my thoughts on the film here:

    http://comicsgrinder.com/2012/12/11/an-african-american-child-will-lead-the-way-reviews-for-butter-and-beasts-of-the-southern-wild/

    • Thanks Mark, glad to hear its regiatering so well with people.

      Quvenzhané Wallis WAS incredible, wasn’t she? (I anticipate that that was a damn cell phone auto correct making a simple typo worse there LOL) :D

    • Bah.

      Brother? I hear ya. That happens to me ALL THE TIME with these limited release films. In fact, I’m gonna have to drive an hour plus to go see Silver Linings Playbook before the end of the year. :(

      Bastards.

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  9. So how about that score! Wait, it seems that’s been addressed many times. Seriously just pop the trailer on youtube and the score will come back to you.

    It’s my favorite film of the 84 new releases I’ve seen in 2012. I’m glad you dug it and that your post will push a few more to give it a viewing. I’ll be forcing it on family members all through the holidays.

    As for Wallis, yup, amazing and don’t be worried about her Oscar chances due to the SAG snub anyways, because she and all the cast were deemed ineligible for not being union actors at the time of shooting.

    Here I will be a douche and quote myself “BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is a phenomenal and often awe inspiring film. It somehow manages to be equal parts devastating and beautiful, while mixing fable-like fantasy and harsh realism in a rampant, uncharted cinematic setting.”

    Anyways, this is my first comment. Hope to be part of discussions going forward. I’m glad you loved the film and I think you put together a very well written review.

    • Thanks for joining in, Ian!

      So Oscar wouldnt care if they were non-Union then? Huh. I mean, I understand that they’re not SAG or anything, but still the Academy has so many bs rules about qualifications and stuff, you might think that’d be one of them. Or at least I would.

      Yeah, I really loved it. It’s right in the thick of things for my top ten for the year… which is coming up fast!

      And don’t worry about being a douche. LOL. At least you didn’t link back to your own review, I’m going to have to start cracking down on that soon there was a day last week where people got way out of hand with it :(

      Hope to see you, then! Pretty proud of all the discussion we get going, here! :D Thanks for joining in on this one!

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