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Beasts of the Southern Wild

by on July 18, 2012
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“Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.” As inexplicable and ambiguous as this quote is, it’s pretty much the perfect summation of this little indie film with a whole lot of heart. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a poetic, quirky and inspirational journey unlike any other. Moreover, it’s incredibly heartfelt and geared toward all ages.

The plot is simple enough, but the payoff is still incredibly rich and fulfilling. Six-year-old free spirit Hushpuppy lives with her father, Wink, in what is simply dubbed as “the Bathtub.” Although it’s never specifically mentioned by name, the Bathtub most resembles a post-Katrina New Orleans. The people of the Bathtub represent a displaced lower class that lives on the flooded side of a great levee. On the other side of the levee exists the upper class, who live in an ominous world that is distinctly in opposition with the Bathtub.

As you soon grow to realize, Hushpuppy and Wink don’t have your typical father-daughter relationship. They interact with one another as equals who have a great deal to learn from one another. Despite living in a proverbial flooded wasteland, the people of the Bathtub are notably content with their life in squalor. In fact, their greatest fear is outside interference, for it threatens to destroy their way of life. Amid this very straightforward social commentary exists a great deal of whimsy and fantasy elements as well.

For the most part, the narrative is told through the eyes of Hushpuppy, bringing a distinctly bright-eyed optimism and whimsical vibe to the entire film. It’s a refreshing approach to an otherwise well-explored means of storytelling. As part of the whimsical element of the film, there exists a horde of long-extinct prehistoric creatures known as aurochs, which are brought to life with the melting of the polar ice caps. Their revival is in direct correlation with Wink’s declining health and Hushpuppy’s struggle to find a new motherly figure in her life.

The joy of watching Hushpuppy’s journey from a bullheaded six-year old to an independent free-spirited soul is simply delightful. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is like the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” of films. For a glorified fantasy drama, the movie remains very down to earth in its portrayal. Despite living in abject poverty, the people of the Bathtub are more concerned with living freely rather than being bound by possessions. I suppose that message transcends the entire movie. This idea that the people that you surround yourself with help shape your perception on life much more than your environment is extremely relatable.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a product of directorial newcomer Benh Zeitlin’s vision. A mere 29 years old, Zeitlin has managed to produce an oddball masterpiece of what can be best described as a paradise in hell. The cast is made up primarily of unknown actors, all of whom exceeded my greatest expectations. The role of Hushpuppy is played by Quvenzhané Wallis, whose name is as beautifully unique as her acting style. The supporting cast of Bathtub miscreants are equally as magnificent. The independent nature of the entire production just adds to the peerless mystique of the film.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is not a movie to be viewed, but an experience to be enjoyed. Films of such a unique nature come along ever so rarely, so it’s important to catch them while they can. Keystone Art Cinema is playing this for a limited run, so make sure you take advantage of this opportunity to indulge in this fantastic adventure.