It’s hard for me to even describe what Beasts of the Southern Wild is. In one way, it’s a coming of age story of epic proportions. Then I have to consider the fact that it’s a coming of age story about a six-year-old girl, and it no longer feels right. Then I think of it as a father/daughter bonding tale. But then I have to consider that the father was terrible at being a father, and he had an obvious disconnect with both his daughter and the gravity of the situation he put her in. Then I wonder if it’s merely a fantastical metaphor for the entire Hurricane Katrina travesty. Put then it feels too personal to be about the entire mass that experienced it. Maybe it’s just a well-mixed jambalaya of all of that (if I may get inappropriately Cajun for a second). Whatever it philosophically is, the only thing I can be sure of is that Beasts of the Southern Wild is a great movie.
The story is relatively simple when I summarize it down to a few sentences. Hushpuppy is a six-year-old girl living with her father, Wink, on an island in the bayou of Louisiana known as The Bathtub. They are very closed off from the mainland, and think of themselves as outcasts on the other side of the levy. When a storm starts to brew, most of the inhabitants of the Bathtub leave for safer ground, but Wink, Hushpuppy, and a few others stay behind to fight out the storm (in one scene; quite literally), and continue their lives in the Bathtub. The storm’s aftermath is initially great for the stragglers, as they have plenty of seafood to catch. But after a couple of weeks, the devastated nature becomes uninhabitable for the wildlife, and the food supply runs out. Then it becomes a choice between staying and dying, or leaving all that they love for survival.
The whole story is told through Hushpuppy’s eyes, so it had a childlike unveiling. A local motherly figure to all the children filled her head with thoughts of the ice caps melting, which in her mind caused the storm, and large prehistoric beasts coming back to human civilization to eat up the weak. Her imagination runs wild throughout her experiences, and the beasts literally get closer and closer to her the worse things get. Her father is also becoming more and more sick, and trying to make Hushpuppy into a beast herself so she can take care of herself when he’s gone. Having a mother that left long ago, and a father that isn’t all there, she is basically forced to look out for herself.
It’s rather brutal and heartbreaking to see the conditions that this girl is put in, simply because her father is a stubborn man. But they don’t have anywhere else to go, I guess. Even when the government offers them up some support, they fight back against it every step of the way. It’s frustrating. Extremely frustrating. But at least it’s frustrating in a thought-provoking way. Some people just don’t want to be helped.
From a storytelling perspective, Beasts of the Southern Wild is both great and confusing. It takes many liberties with including surreal interpretative material for the audience to digest. But it’s not done in a boring, exploitative way like The Tree of Life. Nothing in Beasts ever felt like it was just thrown in as a random attempt to be artsy. It was genuinely artsy. The cinematography was spectacular. Award worthy stuff. The music score is worth noting for its awesomeness. I’m not the biggest fan of movies that have child narration, but it (mostly) works in this film. I will say that I did get a little annoyed after a while, though. I don’t know what to tell you, child narration eventually just starts getting on my nerves if I hear too much of it.
But at least I cared about the little girl in this film. I’m normally against child actors, because I find them to be little dweebs for the most part; but Hushpuppy was a rich, unique character. And she goes through an interesting journey in this film. You become invested in all that is Hushpuppy, and I was thinking about what happened to her long after I left the theater. It’s definitely a haunting film. It will linger in your brain. I love those kind of movies, it just makes me want to see them again.
Now, I’ve never been one to shy away from telling people when movies make my eyes water up, as I consider it one of the biggest compliments I can give. And Beasts of the Southern Wild totally made my eyes water up. It’s fucking sad. It will depress you. Don’t watch it if you want to go to sleep feeling good about things that night. One of the truly remarkable things about the way it made me feel is that it was a situation that I was completely separated from. I didn’t relate to any of the characters, and have never been remotely close to being in the situations they ended up in, and I STILL watered up. I can thank the film’s brilliant character development and engaging relationships for that one.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of the best films of the year. It’s got a story that’s simple enough to follow that I think most people would enjoy watching the film just on a surface level. And then it has layers of extra goodies for people who want to delve deeper. Except for maybe two scenes, I was completely entertained by this movie. And even those scenes had interesting concepts and moments. I don’t know if it’s playing anywhere around where you live (it’s in a limited release, sadly), but if you notice it pop up in your local theater, I’d suggest giving it a chance.
8.5 out of 10