My Movieful Weekend: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Saturday: I confronted the Beasts of the Southern Wild…

Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (Source)

I’ve had a difficult time writing this section of the post because I’m still not sure where I stand with Beasts. I think I had heard too much buzz about it before seeing it. Every critic, pundit, and filmophile has been singing its praises and predicting Oscar consideration since it first hit the festival circuit. And they’re probably right. This is exactly the kind of movie the Academy loves. But this type of priming around “Oscar buzz” reminds me of when “The English Patient” came out. Everyone went nuts for that movie. And if you weren’t totally crazy about it, even if you didn’t hate it, then clearly you didn’t know what you were talking about.

Back to Beasts. I liked it, but I didn’t crazy love it. Honestly, I wasn’t sold on what all the fuss is about. I concede that it is a unique film both visually and conceptually – truly original and provocative. Young Quvenzhané Wallis (age 7) is mesmerizing as Hushpuppy, a fierce and extraordinarily spirited girl who lives with her father in an area known as the Bathtub – a bayou-type landscape separated from the rest of the world by a levee. Residents of the Bathtub are resilient and bonded together through their mutual love of the land, primal survival instincts and intense pride.

Much of the film takes place through Hushpuppy’s 6-year-old lens of the world, which is both magical and surreal AND at the same time a little disjointed and confused. The latter gets communicated through some very shaky handheld camera work, which gets a little disorienting – especially if that kind of constant motion bothers you. (Yes, I get that this is likely intended to reflect the overwhelming chaos in the environment, but it’s still really difficult to watch). There are also countless parallels with current social, political, and environmental conditions and marginalization, some of which echo the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the resulting state response (or lack thereof) to the devastation experienced by the residents of New Orleans. The strength of these potential connections is really in the eye of the beholder. At one level, Beasts is a curious story about the relationship between a girl and her father. At those broader levels, Beasts can be about whatever you want it to be.

Despite all the creative and impressive components of Beasts, I didn’t really feel connected to how they all fit together. And that’s likely the point – that they can fit together (or not) a dozen different ways depending on your own perspective. One friend who accompanied me to Beasts was deeply moved by the movie and clearly felt that sense of connection that was, for whatever reason, missing for me. It is one of those films you kind of need to see for yourself – and chances are you’ve never seen anything quite like it. In that way, at least, Beasts lives up to the hype.

In Part III of My Movieful Weekend coming soon, I talk about seeing the classic “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” on the big screen.

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4 thoughts on “My Movieful Weekend: Beasts of the Southern Wild

  1. I am completely ambivalent about seeing this, which probably explains why I haven’t walked the 200m from my house to see it. It looks like it could be right up my alley, or a crushing pile of disappointment.

    • That’s the thing! I wanted to love it, I really did. I was primed to love it. It sounded like it had everything I really love in a movie – beautifully shot, strong performances, originality, depth – all good things. But it just didn’t click, for some reason. Maybe I just didn’t “get it”. It’s like being set up on a blind date with a person your friends think will be “perfect” for you. Sometimes, even though they’re good on paper, the chemistry just isn’t there.

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