Friday, March 15, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Directed by Benh Zeitlin.
2012. Rated PG-13, 93 minutes.
Quvenzhané Wallis
Dwight Henry
Levy Easterly
Gina Montana
Lowell Landes
Jonshel Alexander
Marilyn Barbarin
Kaliana Brower
Nicholas Clark

On a little strip of land off the coast of Louisiana known as “The Bathtub,” Hushpuppy (Wallis) lives with her daddy Wink (Henry). They’re part of a small tight-knit community operating outside what most of us know as civilization. For the most part, they’re in a world of their own. Of course, there is a major drawback. Their tiny paradise is highly susceptible to massive flooding whenever a storm rolls through. Just the fact they live here lets us know these people are survivors. Like all the kids in The Bathtub, Hushpuppy is learning to be one, as well. What follows is nothing less than beautiful.

We watch Hushpuppy and her daddy live off the land. At first, that’s the easy part. Harder is him being a single man trying to raise a little girl. Things don’t always go too smoothly. Eventually, living off the land becomes difficult as some severe weather leaves The Bathtub mostly under water. In addition to his struggles to relate to his daughter, Wink now has to worry even more than normal about keeping her alive.

The scenes of our two heroes together are infinitely watchable, occasionally harsh and often touching. Both actors are outstanding, breathing ridiculous amounts of life into their characters. As Hushpuppy, Wallis gives one of the best performances by a child I’ve ever seen. Her Oscar nomination is well earned. Though overshadowed in the media by his co-star, Henry is no less excellent as her dad. Through him, we come to appreciate Wink as a passionate man doing what he thinks is right, whether we think it actually is or not.

Beasts of the Southern Wild also makes use of its location, providing us with some gorgeous shots of things both tranquil and tragic. The Bathtub is a three dimensional character adored by those who call her home. Another visual triumph is the rendering of the ancient Aurochs. Here, they resemble giant boars with horns and tusks. By the way, think of them as metaphors to understand how they fit into the movie. Taking them literally will only lead to unanswerable questions. Honestly, I don’t even think they’re the beasts the title refers to.

By the end, we’ve been through more than enough ups and downs with this family to become fully vested in them. When life throws yet another thing at them, we duck. We root for them and share in their triumphs and heartbreaks. From the very first frame we fall in love with Hushpuppy. As the final credits roll, we somehow love her even more. BotSW is just a wonderfully done film.

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