Winner at Cannes Film Festival and at Sundance, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" makes its debut nationwide. Find out if The Horn agrees with these acclaimed juries.
Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” enjoyed an incredible buzz after its debut, receiving the Caméra d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival and Grand Jury Prize in Drama at Sundance. It recently hit theaters nationwide and is currently being featured at Austin’s South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse.
The film centers on a young girl, Hushpuppy, and her all-but-forgotten, defiant, and determined bayou community cut off from the rest of the area by a sprawling levee. Her view of the world is the central narrative vehicle of the film as her bayou village called the ‘Bathtub’ is ravaged by a giant storm. Her father, Wink, strives for a simplistic life as far away from the industry of modern society as possible, and goes through great lengths to keep Hushpuppy from urbanity as well. This is evidenced in her turns of phrases, her immensely naturalistic view of the world, and her primitivistic sense of self-preservation. Strewn throughout the film are wild, prehistoric beasts that have thawed out of their icy prisons to roam throughout the bayou. Their presence in the film starts as metaphor and transcends into Hushpuppy’s reality with varying degrees of success.
While it’s easy to say who the characters are, what their main struggles are and where they live is a challenge to put into words the film’s message. What exactly is the conflict “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is trying to illuminate? What have the characters overcome by the time the end credits role? What exactly is the role of the beasts, and if they are supposed to act as a metaphor, what is that metaphor? This film sits on no political lines, nor does it adhere to any singular cinematic aesthetic.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” doesn’t appear concerned with answering its own questions, solving any mysteries, or providing any miracles. And this seems to be because the fabric of the film is Hushpuppy and her kaleidoscopic perception of life and the universe. Six-year-olds rarely have all the answers; at least Hushpuppy does appear to understand her role in nature.
“Beasts” presents very early on the possibility of Hushpuppy being orphaned as her father disappears and reappears a few days later in a hospital gown. He tries to hide his failing health from Hushpuppy, but in this naturalistic world the Strong can sense the Weak, and she knows he is dying. His abhorrence of modern medicine is ultimately what kills him, just as the defiance of the impact of the oncoming storm (implied to be Katrina) is what kills most of the Bathtub community. Her mother fled after her birth, though not far, because she recognized she was only capable of taking care of herself. Whether Hushpuppy can survive the bayou alone is left to speculation, though her personal strength and the support of her fellow Bathtub survivors lends some hope to a rather discouraging series of events for the young heroine.
The narrative seems so meandering, so lost in its own thoughts, so uncompromising in its honest portrayal of its characters, and so full of raw emotion, which makes the film an incredibly powerful cinematic experience. Each moment is carefully crafted, and very lovingly illustrates how Hushpuppy perceives her world, one that seems to exist on the edge of nature and the outskirts of reality.
What “Beasts of the Southern Wild” lacks in central message is more than made up for by its eccentricities, gorgeous visuals, powerful performances, and unapologetic boldness. It’s absolutely stunning, and unlike any film you’ve ever seen.