“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a strange, engrossing movie – a sort of Terrence Malick without the pretentiousness.
From the first frame, Director Ben Zeitlin plunges us deep into a bizarre post-apocalyptic looking world called the Bathtub, somewhere on the wrong side of the New Orleans levee, beyond the reach of civilization. There, a community of poor, black and white communities – the eponymous ‘beasts’ – live in squalid dilapidation, looking out for and loving each other through upturned bottles of beer and southern hooch.
The story turns on the advent of a Katarina type storm approaching the Delta; a storm we are lead to believe that presages the even bigger climate change storm approaching the earth. It is the subsequent encroach of policing, incarcerating civilization urging these almost prelapsarian residents into shelter that brings into focus the movies themes: the need to balance self-reliance with the help of community; of escapism (they’re drunk most of the time) with the importance to facing down your own demons (here dramatized by imaginary prehistoric wild boars, called aurochs). It’s all seen through the eyes of a young girl, Hushpuppy.
This is (relative) newcomer, Quvenzhane Wallis, who gives a touching and commanding performance as a resourceful and resolute child (self-reliance) in need of tenderness and care (community).
Hushpuppy’s father (Dwight Henry, another newcomer) is Wink, a man as rough and untamed as the place they inhabit. He, like the earth, is stricken with some sort of blood polluting illness from which there is no escape. Indeed, it is the start of his illness that seems to herald a shift in the climate, in the balance of things, as Hushpuppy points out in her wise narrative. His debilitation, and his valiant attempts to hide it and to resist it signal the bigger theme of the inevitability of the apocalypse over which sterile civilization really has no control.
The joy in a movie like this (I’m glad I resisted the urge to see “Taken 2” instead) is its fecundity ideas and the issues it gives rise to. Good as a pre-dinner date for the conversation that will inevitably follow.