Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012, dir. Benh Zeitlin)

“Once there was a Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub…”

Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) is six years old and the narrator throughout this fabled, fantasy drama. She lives, albeit in a separate abode, with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in a marginalised area far beyond the levee walls in the Louisiana bayou. She is a ferocious little girl who spends her time yearning to be reunited with her absent mother and listening to the heartbeats of the creatures around her. The Bathtub is a society largely separated by the necessities for consumerism and while the small close-knit community has little in the way of possessions or stable housing, they are happy living apart from the rest of the world; scavenging, socialising and surviving. Hushpuppy is schooled in lessons of self-sufficiency and encouraged to believe that everything and everyone is connected in the universe. Through the eyes of this feisty little character the viewer sees the effects of global warming as indicative of the resurfacing of a large mythical creature called an auroch and Hushpuppy’s adolescent reconciliation with what will try and, essentially, destroy her delta home.

Beast of the Southern Wild, based upon the play by Lucy Alibar, is a wonderfully made low-budget feature which highlights and embraces the metaphysical imagination of a child amid the harsh realities of a world before and in the wake of a connoted Hurricane Katrina. Hushpuppy, played by non-professional Wallis is unruly and yet balances moments of naiveté beautifully, her father’s tough love approach is, at times, cruel but his motives are clear – he needs his “boss lady” to survive and thrive beyond his lifetime; he wants her to face the world with fierce stoicism and strength and not need to rely upon anybody. Her gritty gumption is both heartbreaking and life affirming in equal measure. While some cynics will read this film as shot through an ideological lens it is an unpretentious rendering of magical realism and serves as modern fairy tale weighted in pathos. It delivers a sensory impact to the audience, boasting gritty and picturesque images via Ben Richardson’s cinematography and a majestic score courtesy of director Zeitlin and composer Dan Romer.

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