Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) ****

PG-13, 93 min.
Director: Behn Zeitlin
Writers: Lucy Alibar (also stage play “Juicy and Delicious”), Behn Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landis, Pamela Harper, Gina Montana, Jovan Hathaway

I haven’t heard much comparison of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” with the events affecting the 9th Ward of New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina, but the film seems to be a fantastical analogy to the people of that hard hit area. Now, I haven’t really read any reviews of the movie, in order to keep my own opinion of it fresh. For all I know, everybody has written about this obvious parallel. I can’t imagine I’m the first or even the 101st.

The events depicted in the film are seen through the eyes of a six-year-old little girl named Hushpuppy. But, we don’t merely witness the events from her point of view; we see them as she does. Everything is approached from the understanding of a six-year-old. The actions of adults make little sense. There are these giant boar beasts that float up from the South Pole to ravage the land. The little girl talks to her mother in the form of a basketball jersey that we can only assume belonged to her mother before she disappeared. Her father disappears for a little while and returns wearing a hospital gown and bracelet. She has no understanding of what these garments mean.

Hushpuppy is a citizen of a very poor community. They live on an island called The Bathtub near a levy and ocean oil drilling platforms in an otherwise unnamed area that looks an awful lot like the Mississippi River Delta. Beyond the levy is where the “normal” people live with their “grocery stores.” The people of the Bathtub live their lives like kings despite their squalor, and kids will be kids however they live.

Behn Zeitlin’s ability to capture the imagination of a child as literally on camera as he does without compromising the reality of the lives these people lead is nothing short of astounding. Lucy Alibar’s ability to keep the perspective of a child throughout her screenplay and the play upon which it was based is a remarkable achievement. There is a flood caused by adults’ own folly; and after the land is poisoned by the floodwaters, the people of the Bathtub are forced into medical staging areas by the normals. The analogy about how the poor are treated differently and how they misunderstood is undeniable. Through it all, the fierce spirit of Hushpuppy and the remarkable performance by Quvenzhané Wallis guides us. It makes for an unprecedented and unique film going experience.

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