Six year old, Hushpuppy, lives with her father and several other families in ‘The Bathtub’ on the coast near New Orleans. Their community is threatened both by stormy weather and the attentions of government disaster relief officials. When her father falls ill, Hushpuppy must learn to fend for herself and deal with the mythological creatures called ‘Aurochs’ which she believes are coming towards her from the Arctic Circle, having been unleashed from a glacier by the global warming which is also the cause of the rising waters around her.
Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012) – Director: Benh Zeitlin
Running Length: 93 mins
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Adapted from Lucy Alibar’s stage play, ‘Juicy and Delicious’, director, Benh Zeitlin has teamed up with Alibar for a film which is a strikingly original and moving drama. ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ enjoyed enormous success at movie festivals around the world, it was nominated for four Oscars: Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress for Quvenzhané Wallis; the youngest actress ever to be nominated in that category. The movie is notable for the freshness of its vision and the decision to portray the events from a child’s perspective is key to its success. There is a magical but realistic sheen to it, combining the depiction of a poor, disaster-afflicted community of social outsiders with frightening mythological creatures. The performances are raw and affecting from a mostly non-professional cast but Quvenzhané Wallis stands out as a memorable and moving heroine, forced to grow up too soon and to display courage and independence in the face of challenges from her family, her environment and from an external supernatural threat.
The pacing is fairly relaxed and the plot ultimately quite thin but there is plenty of conflict and tension to keep you interested and the novelty of the setting helps compensate for some of the slower portions of the film. Many parts of the story remain ambiguous: are the beasts real or imagined and what really happened to Hushpuppy’s mother? Some may find this aspect frustrating but in the end what matters is the protagonist’s emotional development and the triumphant ending sweeps all objections aside.
IS ‘BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
While not specifically targeted at a young audience, ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ will potentially be enjoyable and enriching for slightly older or more mature children who are open to an emotionally complex, morally ambiguous yet exciting adventure story.
The movie tells the story of a six-year-old girl, mostly from her perspective and many children will identify with her and her reactions to events. She is placed in several dangerous and life-threatening situations and she reacts to them with fear and shock. However, the story concerns her courage and growing independence, forced upon her by the absence of her parents – a common theme in children’s films and literature. Essentially, this is a kid’s adventure story which takes place among the complexities of the real, adult world. Adults display contradictory, complex or even inexplicable emotions and motivations, which may confuse some younger viewers and require some parental explanation or discussion afterwards (tough love, fathers who treat their daughters like boys as they would have preferred sons, isolated communities which resent interference from state authorities, etc). The realities of the Bathtub community’s day-to-day life, including the killing of animals for food, alcohol consumption and mild drunkenness as well as the characters’ rebelliousness and defiance of government authority are presented in non-judgmental terms.
There are frequent arguments between father and daughter, some of which culminate in objects being thrown and once in physical violence as they slap each other. The creatures known as ‘Aurochs’ are presented as scary but never actually threaten anyone directly. Other scenes feature glimpses of animal carcasses which have been washed up by the storm and in one brief shot, we see innards spilled out onto the road. In one scene, a woman shoots an alligator. The death takes place off-screen, but some blood spurts up onto the woman’s leg.
Two scenes treat sexual matters in an oblique way, the night of the child’s conception is related to her by her father, but mostly in non-explicit terms and imagery is mostly metaphorical (a boiling, bubbling pot of water). A scene late in the movie features adults flirting and slow dancing in a house which is most likely a brothel, although this is never confirmed or even mentioned in the dialogue.
CAN I SEE A CLIP?
It is easy to see why ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ garnered so much praise on release. It is a beautifully shot and acted film that gives itself the room to breathe life into the mixture of fantastical with harsh reality. Although it may not be structured like a typical kids movie, there is plenty here for children to enjoy should they like a more mature type of storytelling. In summary, we believe that ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ should be suitable for children aged 8 and over.
- Violence: 2/5 (a child is struck by her father, and she hits him back in the chest, causing him to collapse.)
- Emotional Distress: 2/5 (heated arguments and the child protagonist is placed in several scary or stressful situations)
- Fear Factor: 2/5 (the storm sequence may prove intense for younger viewers)
- Sexual Content: 1/5 (mild sexual references but no explicit images)
- Bad Language: 2/5 (several instances of moderate curse words)
- Dialogue: 2/5 (threats of violence and the night of the child’s conception is related to her in non-explicit terms)
- Other notes: Deals with themes of tough love, survival, illness and death of parents. Some alcohol consumption is depicted.
The devastated landscape of the Louisiana bayou becomes a primordial world in the eyes of 6-year-old Hushpuppy (the fierce and magnetic Quvenzhané Wallis). Hushpuppy's father Wink (Dwight Henry), emotionally unstable and increasingly ill, fights to maintain their ramshackle home, along with the rest of the precarious community of the area known as the Bathtub--but a Katrina-esque storm leaves the Bathtub flooded, driving Wink to desperate lengths. Faced with the loss of everything she knows, Hushpuppy decides her only hope is to find her mother, but her only clue is a winking light in the distance. Beasts of the Southern Wild tells its story entirely from the 6-year-old girl's perspective; the actions and emotions of adults take on a mythic scope, as does the damaged environment in which she lives. The movie is dense and rich, often as obscure and murky as the overgrown bayou itself, sometimes off-putting and enticing at the same time. Wallis, her performance brimming with feral energy and a wounded soul, carries the movie with more star power than most adults could muster. The dialogue is thick with intriguing metaphors and the images resist being easily interpreted into a conventional plot, but the story gradually emerges, rising to a potent end. Viewers who take the time to sink into its mysteries will be rewarded. --Bret Fetzer