Monday, July 30, 2012

"Beasts of the Southern Wild": Inimitable

     Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild is a one-of-a-kind surreal experience from a child’s point of view that both imagines and presents an apocalypse based on climate change.  However, this might be a metaphor for a child coming to terms with her place in the universe and in understanding her relationship with her difficult parents.  Neil didn’t believe that the movie presented the narrative in chronological order and he’s right.  In thinking through exactly what happened to the little girl Hush Puppy and her father Wink, some of it had to be in her imagination.

Quevenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry
     Quevenzhané Wallis as Hush Puppy and Dwight Henry as Wink are remarkable.  The other performers that inhabit the delta area south of New Orleans that they’ve named ‘the Bathtub’ have the faces and attitudes of people caught
accidentally in a documentary, rather than in a coming of age fantasy.  The imagery is startling.  I haven’t seen a movie lately that has presented a poverty-stricken community so casually and in such detail.  The documentary Waters Rising was more intense about Hurricane Katrina and the desperation to survive as a community, but it didn’t examine poverty and the sense of cultural dislocation with this focus.  It might be heartwarming that there is ethnic diversity and that is never presented as an issue, but what gave us pause was the sense that as viewers we might hope that the characters would accept outside help, but to do so would actually be patronizing them and go against everything they believe about their community.

Navigating in 'The Bathtub'
     The movie offers no easy answers about growing up, facing independence, surviving disaster both natural and animal (the wild prehistoric aurochs are genuinely frightening), the end of the world, or even whether a viewer can tell the difference between reality, dreamscape, or fantasy in a movie.  It’s a tough story, but genuinely beautiful.  This is Zeitlin’s first feature and it augurs an extraordinary career.  I felt similarly, however, about Vincent Ward’s third feature (but first to be released internationally) The Navigator:  A Voyage Across Time, but the breaks didn’t go his way.  Hopefully, Zeitlin can remain independent and not get swept away by the lure, but not necessarily the potential, of Hollywood.

I hope I never have to live in 'the Bathtub'!

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