New Release: Beasts of the Southern Wild
I was crying before the title card even appeared.
Nothing sad happens in the opening of Beasts of the Southern Wild, but it begins so beautifully, with such a celebration of life, that I was swept up in its magical awe immediately, but with the knowledge that darker times lay ahead and it couldn't stay beautiful forever.
Hushpuppy, a six-year-old girl, lives in the bayou with her father. Their community, a small island surrounded by water, is called the Bathtub. It's a place that to the outside world would be considered destitute, but to the dwellers of the Bathtub is a place full of love and happiness, and they feel sorry for everyone who doesn't live there. After a terrible storm floods the Bathtub, the remaining residents band together to survive, but Hushpuppy's father is dying, and with mythical beasts called the Aurochs being freed from the melted ice caps that caused the storm, Hushpuppy must brave the outside world and the Aurochs to go in search of her long missing mother.
It's one thing to watch a film full of characters living in squalor and take pity on them. But when these characters refuse anyone's pity, one's emtions are suddenly tossed in the air looking for a new direction. And Beasts pint-sized heroine takes those scrambled emtions in far more optimistic place. Watching a Hurricane Katrina-esque story through the eyes of someone so young doesn't leave room for pity, but a sense of survival and hope, as blind as it may seem at times.
At the center of this intense journey is newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis, who was so captivating, the term "child-actor" doesn't seem like such a dirty word anymore. And with a majority of the cast and crew calling the influential state of Louisiana home, coupled with truly stunning imagery, the atomosphere of the Bathtub radiated a feeling of authenticity Hollywood could never deliver.
It would have been easier to make a downright depressing film about a terrible place in Louisiana history. A film that makes its audience cry all while having a patronizing sympathy for its characters. One that leaves most people saying "Well, that was great, but so intense and sad I'm not sure I can watch it again." Beasts of the Southern Wild makes the audience a member of the Bathtub so everyone can enjoy all the ups and downs that life has to offer. Instead of merely watching Hushpuppy, we go on a journey with her, suffering and celebrating along the way. And it's an ever present feeling of hope, pride, love, and community that left me crying but desperately wanting more.