Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild
Published: 18 October, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
Directed by Benh Zeitlin
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The drip-drip demise of a planet safe for human habitation is the crux of this extraordinary film.
We meet six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a feral child partly looked after by her father, Wink, a strange mixture of a man who can barely look after himself but whose paternal instincts haven’t been completely buried by drink.
He lives in a hole of a home on an islet called The Bathtub: a tin shack across a field from Hushpuppy’s house, an old trailer majestically hoiked up on oil drums.
Her friends are other wild-haired children she sometimes encounters and the livestock of the bayou. She sees the world through a child’s magical eyes, and has an understanding of how the planet works. Being so close to nature, she sees clearly that an eco-system is a fragile jigsaw of interconnecting pieces, and when one is out of kilter the rest doesn’t fit.
This is no Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer fantasy. The Mark Twain backdrop of a southern-ville living next to a watery natural habitat is one that has long been ruined by the mechanisation of our lives. The detritus of the industrial age provides the materials for daily living (the cut-off tail of a car is turned into a raft, plastic drums become floats, a laundry basket is a crab and crayfish pot). But the wastefulness of mechanisation is also starkly illustrated.
Global warming becomes a fantastical beast of terrifying proportions. Melting ice caps and rising water levels equal the complete disappearance of The Bathtub and its community, and this is no gentle drip-drip: this is a Macbeth storm that rushes in and devastates.
The poverty of those eking it out has contradictions: it seems impossible, terrible, unbearable that families could live in such squalor.
But then you realise that the usual tenets of living standards are flexible here and that people living in seemingly more clean and “civilised” communities are just as bad as those in this ghetto, if not more so, as they have the means to change things but still let the race to environmental destruction continue at a fair lick.
The film works. It is a fascinating story of a daily struggle to exist in the run-end of a super power.
The acting is superb. Quvenzhané Wallis has made a hell of a debut.
The locations are something else – apart from the fact every scene has a fixed point of interest for you to look at (the tacked-together houses of corrugated cardboards, the squalor and mess of the interiors), filming in such challenging conditions is yet another reason for its triumph.
Then there is humour. This is not condescending but the joy of a community saying, “Hey, this is how we do it here, and if you don’t like it, well, there’s plenty in your world we could point to and say, that’s awful, too.”
The levee cuts off the “safe” and “clean” world from the sprawling communities of the delta, and they have different aspirations and needs.
Beasts is an original effort, tackling a giant issue, namely the future of our planet, seen through the microcosmic world of a little girl.
It’s a big idea with massive obstacles to get it right.
The waters are rising and a storm is coming in.
Can Hushpuppy survive, make sense of what is happening to her world, and how the changes will affect her?
See this film and find out for yourself.