The advent of cinema created a world where artists could create moving portraits, an artistic medium not bound my any form of limitations. Rarely a film is created that holds a transgressive quality, the ability to move you completely out of your comfort zone and violate the standard laws of filmmaking. Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin, who co-wrote the screenplay with Lucy Alibar, has done just that, and more. Beasts of the Southern Wild may be classified as a magical realist film, wherein the real and the fantastic exist in the same place, simultaneously, and without pure distinction.
A necessity with magical realism is maintaining the viewer while diving into the less-common and more fantastic world of the story. Production Designer Alex DiGerlando does this marvelously with his creation of the “Bathtub,” a mass of land off of Louisiana that is separated by the mainland with a levee. The Bathtub is a fantasy world that exists in your worst nightmares, but it is home to Hushpuppy (newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father Wink (Dwight Henry). The homes are made out of what the civilized world have discarded: boats fastened out of truck beds, shanty houses built out of scraps of metal high up in the trees to avoid the water rising, and the beautiful surroundings polluted by humanity. In the Bathtub there is no talk of getting out of the Bathtub, the inhabitants live off the grid, and off the land. Hushpuppy and her father make due with what they have, and his promise to her is that she will one day be the King of the Bathtub–a sentiment he repeats in order to give her strength, bravery, and to overcome her fears. The relationship between father and daughter is marred by his sickness, making him irritable and unlikable; or this may be his usual state, it is unknown.
It is Hushpuppy who narrates the story, and Hushpuppy’s journey to complete. From the surreal storm that washes the Bathtub nearly away to the devastating act of terror made by the Bathtub inhabitants to avoid at all costs living amongst others in the civilized world, Beasts of the Southern Wild is filled with strong emotion and an intensity so great the fantastical beasts in Hushpuppy’s mind become real for the viewer. The real world in all of its horrifying beauty looks bewitching from the eye of cinematographer Ben Richardson. When Hushpuppy’s imagination soars the visuals are frighteningly acute. Beasts of the Southern Wild is an extraordinary film to experience, not merely watch. The third act did cause some trouble in trying to place it within the context of the rest of the story but it does complete the hero’s journey for Hushpuppy. That being said, it fits, its just not executed very well. The finale forgives all, as the real and the fantastic blend together in one final display of cinematic greatness and an unforgettable performance by Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy.
Release: June 27, 2012
Directed by: Benh Zeitlin
Screenplay by: Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Based on the stage play
“Juicy and Delicious” by: Lucy Alibar
Produced by: Michael Gottwald, Dan Janvey & Josh Penn
Executive Produced by: Philipp Engelhorn, Paul Mezey, Michael Raisler
Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry
In a forgotten but defiant bayou community cut off from the rest of the world by a sprawling levee, a six-year-old girl exists on the brink of orphanhood. Buoyed by her childish optimism and extraordinary imagination, she believes that the natural world is in balance with the universe until a fierce storm changes her reality. Desperate to repair the structure of her world in order to save her ailing father and sinking home, this tiny hero must learn to survive unstoppable catastrophes of epic proportions.