Beasts of the Southern Wild

| July 10, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a brilliant film, based around Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in New Orleans. It features a man named Wink, played by Dwight Henry, and his young daughter affectionately known as Hushpuppy, who is played by Quvenzhané Wallis, who are just living the life, even though their lives wouldn’t be anything that most people would want.

They live in an area known as the Bathtub, a Delta community that seems at the edge of the world, but is close toNew Orleanswhere the levees broke, and the father is teaching the daughter all he can about survival, since he knows he won’t be around forever. In an Oscar-worthy performance, Hushpuppy naively believes that many parts make up the universe and as long as all parts stay on course, everything will be alright. But Hushpuppy has already seen despair, as she has been told that her mother “swam” away. Left alone to raise his daughter, Wink is a stern father, but when he describes Hushpuppy’s “conception” and the way her mother was so beautiful that she “could just walk past the stove and the flames would light,” it’s so moving and warm.

Hushpuppy has her own makeshift house of sorts to live in, separate from her father. But when she burns the place down, nearly with her in it, she has to live in her father’s dwelling, which is nothing more than a shack with mounds of trash and improvised furniture inside. But there are teddy bears and an old Michael Jordan jersey, with which Hushpuppy won’t part. It was ironic that Hushpuppy clung to that red, black and white jersey. Jordanwith all his wealth played a good part of this poor, inventive girl’s life. But you only realize you are poor when someone else makes note of it.

Wink becomes ill, and it seems at this point all manner of weird things come into play. With the waters rising and destruction seeming imminent, Wink and Hushpuppy, along with other neighbors who are just as destitute as them, ride out the storm. But the “man,” in this case the FEMA relief workers, force them to leave the area and place them in a shelter. Of course, they don’t want to go, as they can survive by themselves—with animals at their disposal to catch, kill and eat.

The group flees the shelter, right as they are being loaded onto buses for safer places. Wink really wants Hushpuppy to go to another town to find a better life, but she resists and resents that her father was “trying to get rid of her.”

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a great movie; it’s great for people of all ages; it’s great to bring young people to see it—so they can learn to appreciate even the smallest things—even the leaf from a tree that Hushpuppy has no problem with putting up to her ear to see what she can hear (she believes that animals speak to her in code), before putting it in her mouth as nourishment.

There are no actors that you will recognize from other films. Hushpuppy could have been nothing more than a wild child, with kinky hair, dirty dress and wading boots. However, she is ultimately the “voice” of this movie about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. First-time director Benh Zeitlin brings all cast members together in what can be viewed as a defiant wag of the finger at theU.S.government and the way it handled residents ofNew   Orleans—both before and after the storm.

Beasts of the Southern Wild can well be viewed as fantasy, but it is also about survival, resilience and celebration. It is now playing in limited release.

About the Author:

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago. She is the author of "Old School Adventures from Englewood--South Side of Chicago" and the proud parent of "the smart rapper"--chemist-turned-rapper, turned humanitarian...Psalm One!
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