If this spectacular indie film is any evidence as to how the rest of 2012 will shape up in regards to film, I am ecstatic. Easily the best film I have seen this year, Beasts of the Southern Wild is an emotive ride through a rather unconventional world, complete with moments of genuine sweetness and biting reality. At no point in this film do you feel as though you are losing out on quality and, if anything you feel as though the movie ends far too soon. Relying heavily on handheld cinematography and gritty imagery, this is a cinematic pseudo-anthropological study of persons residing in a world that has literally been taken off the map. Vehemently opposed to traditions of filmmaking, Benh Zeitlin creates a world that is inhabited by those often deemed voiceless or inconsequential in film narratives. Each character is in someway a victim of a societal oppression, whether it be gender, class, race or most importantly place of residence. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a film about humanity in the grandest of terms that plays out with poetic magnitude and pertinent social commentary. Furthermore, and perhaps most astonishing is the films focus on a child actor, often a risk, Zeitlin's directing and the films sincere quality help make a tricky method explode brilliantly off the screen.
The story of Beasts of the Southern Wild is the story of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) a young girl who lives in a flooded portion of Mississippi with the eponymous name of The Bath. She lives in an incredibly rural world, ruled by bartering and communal help, having only the guidance of her temper-fueled father Wink (Dwight Henry) and the random advice of her school teacher Miss Bathsheba (Gina Montana). Told through Hushpuppy's point of view, we are shown a young woman struggling with a detachment from her mother at a very young age and a father who is slowly falling apart as a result of heart disease. These very real problems are paralleled with Hushpuppy's visions of beasts from days of yore rising from the melting snow caps to come prey upon her and her insecurities, something she says they can sense from miles away. While the films begins in a light-hearted manner, the realities of living off the grid begin to interfere, as Hushpuppy and her community become the point of forced intervention by health outreach programs who see their lifestyle as not only primitive, but dangerous, particularly their living in a world that is constantly threatened by flooding. Eventually being evicted by government agents, Hushpuppy has a taste of the "civilized" world something that bothers her to such a degree that she sets out to find her mother. After swimming a great distance she ends up in a floating dance hall/brothel where a woman who very much matches the descriptions of her father's memories. Sharing fried gator with her she attempts to make her realize she is her daughter, however, the woman leaves without acknowledging this fact, resulting in Hushpuppy returning to the island, with the food in tow, just in time to give it to her father before he dies, resulting in one of the films most heart-wrenching scenes. The film closes with Hushpuppy spouting words of affirmation to her life up to this point, as she leads the residents of The Bath on a march down the road, in what we as viewers can assume is their dire future, however, no fear exists on the face of this girl who has grown years in the matter of a few days.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is perhaps the most well-executed film bildungsroman since The 400 Blows, particularly in that it manages to transcend the traditional formative youth experiences in favor of something far grander philosophically speaking. Of course, Hushpuppy does go through the traditional formative moments, whether they be forced acknowledgement of her gender, or the inevitable realization of death and these are necessary to such a narrative. However, I would posit that the experiences in this film are far more complex and reflective than most films about children, excluding the previously mentioned Truffaut film of course. I mean to say that Hushpuppy has a few moments of internal reflection that would cause the Buddha to be proud, most notably her acknowledgement that she is a small puzzle piece in a big puzzle, something that is simply explained but difficulty realized. Furthermore, she comes into contact with her power as an individual when spiteful, in one scene she strikes her father in the chest out of frustration, causing his heart problems to reemerge. She realizes in this moment that her anger out outlashes can have very serious consequences. Furthermore, she encounters her mother, or someone similar, an experience which causes her to reflect on the value placed on a woman who, ultimately, left her alone. This realization inspires courage and self-determination within Hushpuppy, something that allows her to stand face-to-face with the beasts that she so greatly feared, affirming her role as a leader to future generations.
Key Scene: The movie has far to many great moments to simply pick one.
This movie is emotive and realized. Under no circumstance should you miss checking this out whether it be in theaters or on bluray it is to be viewed immediately.