Movie: Beasts of the Southern Wild
My Rating: 3 stars
This was a confusing, but beautiful, little film. I’m really having a hard time knowing what to make of it. Is it a film about community? Or personal values? Is it an anthropological study, training an eye on a dying way of life, neither romanticizing, nor denigrating it? Or, is this film just an exercise in disorienting, dreamlike aesthetics? It very well could be any of these things. For some reason, I had a really hard time figuring out the point of view of the filmmaker, Benh Zeitlin.
There isn’t much of a story in this film. The action follows the aimless wanderings of a little girl, Hushpuppy, as she goes about all of her wild, little girl business. She lives in a small, fictional, shantytown near New Orleans called The Bathtub. Hushpuppy lives a pretty much entirely unsupervised life, so she does a lot of poking and prodding and investigating of various things in nature, her home, and only occasionally, school. She lives with her dad, but he doesn’t seem to be a very reliable roommate. This guy comes and goes as freely as Hushpuppy herself. So, she is essentially left to herself to examine and make sense of the world. The Bathtub is a rough and untamed enclave, and this little girl lives an almost feral kind of existence. The cinematography makes everything look dreamy and magical, but the movie did feel a little bit sad to me too. Hushpuppy seems particularly starved for affection. She seems to want nothing more than to just be held and taken care of by a loving adult. And, that seems to be the hardest thing for her to find. It’s a little bit heartbreaking.
So, I think I did like this film, even though I’m completely confused by it. It’s not very often that we get to see stories about deeply sad little children. We don’t usually like to think about that kind of thing in society today. People usually prefer to think of kids as happy and innocent, and carefree. We even seem to prefer seeing them as victims of terrible crimes in tragic films. Somehow, a story about a melancholy, world-weary, little person going about her sad, everyday business is deeply unsettling to our Western sensibilities. And so, it’s not something we get to see very often. I enjoyed seeing these new ideas expressed on film, and you might too. But, I think it would be best to approach this film without any expectations.