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Beasts of the Southern Wild

This is not going to be an easy film to write about, because it’s not an easy film to categorize.  It was a joy to watch, though.

Sort of like a Terrence Malick film, but not nearly as abstract, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is about a small community that lives south of the levy in Louisiana.  They are so separated from those on the other side of the levy, it’s as if they live in an entirely different world.  It wouldn’t go too far to compare their community (which they call “The Bathtub”) to those in post-apocalyptic dramas; they live close to the land (by which I mean there’s no difference between today’s pet and tomorrow’s dinner) and they fish out of boats that used to be pickup truck buckets.  They seem perfectly content with life, and refuse to leave when a big storm rolls in.

The film centers on Hushpuppy, a wild-haired girl who lives in a trailer right next to the trailer where her daddy lives.  There’s something wrong with him, but she’s never sure whether he’s dying or just a little under the weather, so for most of the film, we don’t really know either.   He spins fantastic tales about her absent mother (“she never had to light the stove…she’s so hot, water boiled as soon as she saw it”) and she carries around a worn-out Jordan jersey as a maternal stand-in.

A big storm hits, and everything is underwater, and the levee must be broken in order to survive, and there are giant mythical monsters called Auraks in the land.  But this isn’t a disaster film; none of this is taken with great urgency.  Maybe because when you’re about as big as Hushpuppy is, nothing carries much urgency, since you don’t know disaster from daily life yet.  Everything is just something that happens, and then something else happens. It’s not a movie about people fighting for survival; it’s a movie about people for whom survival is an everyday task.

It’s a beautiful, lyrical film, easy to watch, instantly memorable, and one of the best of the year.  It’s not much like any other film I’ve ever seen.

Verdict: Highly Recommended


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