Movie Review: The Beasts of the Southern Wild by Benh Zeitlin

Directed by Benh Zeitlin

Screenplay by Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin

Date of release: 2012

Genre: magical reality

Hushpuppy: Quvenzhané Wallis
Wink : Dwight Henry
Jean Battiste: Levy Easterly


“Once there was a Hushpuppy,” the narrator (Hushpuppy herself) informs us at the very beginning. This 5-year-old (?) girl, living in tough circumstances in a stretch of Louisiana bayou called the Bathtub, very much resembles your average heroine of a fairy tale. She is cute, she believes in a kind of magic, her mum has disappeared and she wishes her back. There is more of it but not exactly fairy-tale-ish anymore.

Her father, Wink, is a dying man in dire straits, bequeathing all his wordly posessions — mainly squalid trailers and old, rusty oil drums – but also an ethos, a tribe and a way of life to his resourceful and rebellious, although very young daughter. And if the girl is vulnerable, she is also powerful, her temperament a tough alloy of innocence, stubbornness and guile. Hushpuppy is searching for her mother, and also trying to save a world threatened by natural disaster, mythic beasts and well-meaning but soulless government authorities.Her epic struggle is in part a girl’s attempt to grapple with loss and danger using the tools she finds in her emotional and cognitive arsenal: courage, empathy and imagination.
What I liked:

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a fantastical, emotionally powerful journey. Its magic is that it does not worry too much about distinguishing among the real and fantastic elements of this quest, or inviting the viewer to sort them into different levels of meaning. We are presented the world as a child might experience it. Of course it may be possible to surmise, in retrospect, that the aurochs, the mythic beasts, freed from the Arctic ice, are symbolic, that Hushpuppy’s bittersweet meeting with her mother is a dream (or a case of mistaken identity) and that the actual world this child inhabits is more full of weeping than she can understand. Still the filmmaker comes from a perspective of great empathy and considerable skill. I appreciate such an approach.

What I didn’t like:
Have you heard about powerty porn? It isn’t anything new; if you’ve  ever seen one of those  kitsch (in my very humble opinion) portraits of hungry, dishevelled children painted by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo you might understand better what I mean (one of those is shown below).

Glamourized poverty by Murillo
Glamourized powerty in the movie

I suppose this movie might be a great example of such a trend as it tries to present the unreal, beautiful life of utter poverty which doesn’t exist and an unreal, idealized community, full of people who are nice, wretchedly destitute, idle drunkards and proud of it. They think their way of life is not only interesting,  good for children and for themselves, but also something worth preserving and cultivating. I was waiting and waiting for them to wake up at some point – in vain. Really, sometimes their blindness made me very angry because, let’s face it, what future are they going to pass to the band of kids they take care of? A five-year-old girl might think her hovel of a house is the best place on Earth but any adult would be able to tell her otherwise, even her dear papa, who, while dying, doesn’t think how to ensure a good home for his beautiful little daughter. What a senseless waste.

Final verdict:
It was a good story but it took me three evenings to finish watching it. Why? No, not because it was very long. Approximately after half an hour I felt so drained and depressed I had to stop the movie and start doing something else. Accordingly I am in two minds about this one. On the one hand it was definitely something fresh and original, perhaps even the most original 2012 film around. The little actress, Quvenzhané Wallis, was a joy to watch – this girl really has a smile to charm fish out of water. On the other hand, having experienced relative powerty myself, I can see neither glamour nor advantages of such a state and the movie offered nothing whatsoever to make you think little Hushpuppy would be better off than her dear daddy or his band of friends. It is not an ending I look forward to in my stories.
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6 Responses to Movie Review: The Beasts of the Southern Wild by Benh Zeitlin

  1. Blodeuedd says:

    Omg nooo! 3 freaking nights?!

  2. Kelly says:

    Wow… I still don't know if I want to see it, but I love the idea of it (just not sure if I have the stomach for it…). Was it worth it, in the end, when you finished it on the third evening?

  3. heidenkind says:

    Sounds like a tough one. I actually didn't know this took place in Louisiana from the trailers.Are you planning on watching all (or most) of the Academy-nominated films before the Oscars?

  4. It was definitely an interesting move but not one I would like to watch for the second time. It left me frustrated and slightly frothing at the mouth.

  5. I wouldn't guess it was Louisiana if I haven't read about it. Are you planning on watching all (or most) of the Academy-nominated films before the Oscars?Only those which catch my imagination in a way. This one certainly did.

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