Film Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

"Beasts of the Southern Wild is a moving story, an original and surprisingly uplifting film, whose images will stay with you for a long time"

by Alex Radzyner on 23 October 2012 23:00

"You are an orphan now " was the observation my cousin made when I met him for the first time after my mother had died earlier this year.

On a rational level this struck me as odd, since I am in my late fifties and both my parents had died at a ripe old age; but on an emotional level he was onto something. He had named the feeling I had not been able to identify, when images of my childhood came back more frequently than they had in many years. It was a reminder that the child within us, although often unacknowledged as we get older, stays with us for life.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is not a film for children, but one that speaks to the child within us grown-ups, the one who is sometimes still afraid to have to face a harsh world without parental shelter and support. 

The central figure of this film is Hushpuppy, a six year old girl whose mother has left and whose father is teaching her how to live and survive in the Louisiana "bath-tub".

The bath-tub is where people on the margins of society prefer to live freely, yet somewhat cohesively, in shacks with their domestic animals rather than be institutionalised as homeless down-and-outs in urban New Orleans. 

The bath-tub is that part of the Mississippi Delta which has been reserved as an area for to be flooded, when the levees are needed to protect the cities, towns and villages on the other side from being inundated. For Hushpuppy, her father and the others she lives with, the bath-tub yields the meat and fish that can ensure a free self-sufficient life close to nature. 

It is however, a life full of dangers and risks for a 6 year old girl: who will look after her, if her father who sometimes treats her lovingly, sometimes very harshly, were to leave or fall ill? Then there are the hurricanes, floods and the authorities who want to keep the area clear of people and ramshackle huts.

Beasts of the Southern Wild shows us life in the "bath-tub" with its myths, its habits, customs and home truths through Hushpuppy's eyes, as she is trying to form a coherent world-view from her surroundings and experiences.

She is a modern female Huckleberry Finn in the making, fascinated by the science of archaeology and aurochs, ancient legendary animals that are like stone-age cave paintings come to life. 

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a moving story, an original and surprisingly uplifting film, whose images will stay with you for a long time. 

Based on a theatre play by Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar herself have developed an even more powerful screenplay.  

Zeitlin's gripping direction is underlined by a great score which he has largely composed himself. The cast, partly consisting of amateur actors, is excellent. Quevenzhavé Wallis as Hushpuppy is simply stunning, brilliant and unforgettable.

Zeitlin's film deserves all the accolades it has received at the Sundance and Cannes film festival and many more besides. 

10/10

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