Magic, a Hushpuppy and the Beasts of the Southern Wild

“The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece… the whole universe will get busted.”–Hushpuppy

Hushpuppy is a six-year-old who lives with her father, Wink, in “the Bathtub”–a Delta community created by the pressures of global climate change, cut off from the rest of society by a levee. Her world is one ruled by nature and the swamp that surrounds her, where a rag-tag group of outsiders–luddites whose technology lies somewhere between dieselpunk and earthpunk–live off the land and spend their days enjoying life as best they can. Their community, “the Bathtub” is a semi-autonomous near anarchist, multiracial, rural state, with free thinking (and free drinking) citizens who exist in a communal lifestyle. People share what they have, turn discarded junk into jumbled tenements, create their own medicines, their own laws and culture, even tell their own histories. But things aren’t as peaceful as they seem. Wink is dying from some unknown disease and tries to prepare his daughter with tough love (that is a times hard to watch) to survive in this near-apocalyptic future. In the midst of all this, in her quest to live up to her father’s expectations of strength, Hushpuppy is filled with frightful premonitions of prehistoric creatures called aurochs, freed from the melting ice of the polar caps. With the water steadily rising, and their way of life threatened, Hushpuppy and her band of out-“castes” try to survive and create a new-old way of life.

Directed by Benh Zeitlin, the film is based on Lucy Alibar’s one-act-play Juicy and Delicious and was shot on location in the Louisiana bayou country, home to its two leading stars, Dwight Henry (Wink) and Quvenzhané Wallis (Hushpuppy)–both of whom were amazingly “discovered” during the casting call. Far from your average Hollywood fare, the film is a bit of magical realism over laid with unmistakable social themes told from the point of view of a six-year-old girl. And it’s quite ambitious in its own unassuming way. There’s quite a lot going on: a young girl’s relationship with her father alongside memories of her mother; the vulnerability of underprivileged groups to the effects of global climate change; a six-year-old’s fears and imagination in a world that is both beautiful but harsh; an ongoing conflict between the haves and have-nots and even a minor insurgency. It’s also a coming of age story, in a different and difficult age which our protagonist at once finds perfectly normal. Nature plays probably the largest starring role, creating dreadful storms and inundations that wash away lives and reduce mankind’s many creations into a collection of junk and artifacts. And don’t forget the Aurochs.

Beasts of the Southern Wild may be one of the most unusual films that delve into the fantastic that I’ve come across this year, both in its unusual rural southern setting, cast and storyline that seem a blend of Pan’s Labyrinth, An Inconvenient Truth, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the varied tent communities that have sprung up in the United States in the past decade (yes, for some that dystopian future sci-fi has been promising has already arrived). Not really going to give a review or throw in any spoilers. But between all the superhero and action flicks, I will recommend it as a “should see” film of the summer, so that “in a million years, when kids go to school, they’re gonna know….Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.”

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3 thoughts on “Magic, a Hushpuppy and the Beasts of the Southern Wild

  1. Pingback: From the Soundtrack: Beasts of the Southern Wild « Muse & Words

  2. Enjoyed your analysis of the film. The premise of the film seemed so plausible to me, I took it as present-day Louisiana. It wasn’t until I read what others thought that I realized it was set in the future. I loved this film and it resonated with me and entered my thoughts for weeks after I saw it.

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