Saturday, 13 March 2021

Movie Review: Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012)

A fantasy drama about the fragility of life, Beasts Of The Southern Wild is a child's perspective on the human struggle for dignity and survival.

In the rural waterfront bayous known as "the bathtub" outside the levees protecting New Orleans, six year old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhan√© Wallis) lives in a ramshackle but carefree prawn harvesting community beset by poverty. Her hard-drinking father Wink (Dwight Henry) attempts to provide care, but is often drunk, sometimes absent, and suffering from a serious heart ailment. School teacher Miss Bathsheba is the only other responsible adult in the vicinity.

Trying to feed herself, Hushpuppy causes a house fire. Then with a heavy storm approaching, Wink and his friends refuse to evacuate. The storm causes flooding and more hardship, forcing Hushpuppy and Wink to take to the water in an improvised boat to check on their neighbours. Rescuers eventually arrive, but residents of the bathtub do not take kindly to imposed relocation.

An independent production co-written and directed by Benh Zeitlin, Beasts Of The Southern Wild adapts stylistic themes from 2001: A Space Odyssey to the climate crisis. A wide-eyed look at abject poverty and accompanying abuse in a corner of America best resembling a derelict third world country, the film is also an allegorical representation of slow decline and the spectre of death at the personal, community and global scale.

Although just 93 minutes long, the pacing is slow and the narrative content sparse. Hushpuppee also suffers from a dichotomy of aged wisdom within a 6 year old child. But through her eyes and imagination, the startling depiction of a proud but forsaken community is infused with fantasy elements include aurochs (ancient large wild cattle) breaking free from the arctic ice and rampaging towards the bayous. Hushpuppy adopts a self-conscious perspective on the scope of history, learning from the drawings of the cave people to internalize humanity's perpetual perseverance to survive and leave signposts of warning for future generations.

While the ancients fought great beasts, now Hushpuppy has to survive her father's volatile definition of care and his increasingly ill health; the destruction of her community due to flooding; and the countdown to Earth's annihilation. Zeitlin uses dreamy and often profoundly beautiful imagery to capture the interwoven themes, and benefits from Wallis' focused presence and Henry's on-the-edge-of-reason performance. The music soundtrack, also co-created by Zeitlin, adds immeasurably to the visual experience.

The beasts may change form but will always exist, challenging the next generation's right to survive. Drawing inspiration from the women who preceded her, one young girl defines her present and future with determined elegance.



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