The lines between reality and fantasy are harshly drawn in most cases, however, in the mind of a child they can begin to blur. This notion is what makes Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild so appealing. At no point in the film do we really know if we are witnessing the imagination of a child raised in anarchy or the anarchy itself. The audience’s confusion allows them to empathize with the character of Hushpuppy in a deeper and more meaningful way.
Beasts of the Southern Wild involves a young girl, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), who embarks on a life changing journey with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), as he is dying of an unknown illness. The relationship between the two is as manic, frightening, and beautiful as a vivid dream. They live in a southern Delta, which is clearly near New Orleans, in abysmal surroundings. Zeitlin makes obvious yet considerate connections between how chaotic their home life is as a mirror for Wink’s, and to an extent Hushpuppy’s, mental state. Wink suffers from mental illness of some kind and is an alcoholic, but this doesn’t slow him down from his fatherly duties. However twisted as they may seem Wink finds its necessary to bring Hushpuppy up to speed on surviving in the “Bathtub” (another name for the Delta they live in). From how to catch fish with your bare hands to “beasting a crab” Wink shows her all she needs to know. While no one would summarize his lessons as stellar moments in parenting they are some of the most heartfelt moments in the film. The early part of the film really shows you just how much Wink cares for Hushpuppy, and more importantly how much Hushpuppy idolizes her dying father.
While Wink is teaching our heroine some life lessons there is another story arc happening in the background. As her world becomes more hectic ancient animals called aurochs begin to be released into the world. These giant boar-like animals are the thing of a child’s nightmares. They are ever approaching, and as time goes on they grow in numbers and size. The collision between the aurochs and Hushpuppy is inevitable. Her madness filled life will eventually catch up to her and she will have to deal with it face to face. Zeitlin gives these aurochs no personality or anything to connect with. They are soulless monsters just over the horizon. Here you can see the most obvious blurs of reality and the dream world. The aurochs represent many things in the film, however, ironically they ultimately represent real life, and its inevitability.
The performances in this film were something to really see. Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy was some of the best child acting I have ever seen. At age 5 she brought a realness to the role. It felt at times she was just being filmed in her normal life. For a majority of child actors showing heartfelt emotion is difficult, however for Wallis it came all too easy. Dwight Henry’s portrayal of Wink was stellar. His manic swings in emotion were genuinely disturbing. I have to guess that Henry is a father in real life because he is able to emote in scenes with a sense of concern that is so pitch perfect for a parent to a child. His genuineness reminded me of Chris Parnell’s role in Pariah. The rest of the cast is filled with emotional and very real performances. One thing that I generally don’t get into when I do reviews is cinematography. Its general bores people to tears so I just don’t bother. However, in the case of Beasts of the Southern Wild I will make an exception. The movie looks simply beautiful. We were treated to tight shots of a southern Delta and flooded rivers. The transitions to and from reality was seamless. Anytime the aurochs were on screen they were larger than life and had a dream like presence due to their enormity comparative to their environment. All of this makes for not only an intriguing experience but a beautiful film. Go see Beast of the Southern Wild.