Thursday, January 3, 2013
The Case for Southern Beasts
There are some movies that I go to because the reviews have been rave, even if the trailer I have seen does not really fire my enthusiasm. Recently, that has worked out pretty well for me. Until I struck Beasts of the Southern Wild, and that run of luck ran out.
Beasts of the Southern Wild follows the story of a young girl called Heffalump (its not actually; her name is Hushpuppy) who lives with her father in a place called Bathtub near New Orleans. It’s a place inhabited by materially poor but spiritually free people, some of whom also happen to be mildly bonkers, and it is also a place prone to flooding – and Hurricane Katrina is on its way. The impact of the storm on the lives of Bathtub’s inhabitants is profound, some refusing to leave their homes despite the severe flooding that hits. As things get worse, Hushpuppy and those who stayed behind have to deal with the flooding’s legacy, and with trying to avoid assistance from the wider community, a community they don’t want to join.
The film is mostly shot in shaky vision, and I wonder if this is what drove some people from the cinema 10 minutes into the screening I saw, never to return. It is really irritating, though for the most part I was able to look past the wobbliness and appreciate the beauty of the Southern Wilds.
While there can be no doubting that Quvenzhané Wallis's performance as Hushpuppy is amazing, I personally found her neglectful and nigh on abusive father completely unsympathetic, and Hushpuppy’s “profound” utterances seem aimed more at the cinematic crowd than to actually reflect thoughts she would be entertaining. Hushpuppy’s father seems so hell bent on keeping his independence that he seems to almost ignore the fact he has a young daughter in his care, leaving her to fend for herself a lot of the time and ignoring the impact that his own health and well being would have on her.
Likewise, the Bathtub community is full of quirky characters who are fiercely independent yet supportive of each other – except in the case where they completely ignore Hushpuppy’s poor treatment at the hands of her father.
These “cruelties” proved to hard a hurdle for me to leap over, and it ruined how I experienced the rest of the film. My companions had no such trouble, or else did not see the issues that I saw, and so they had a great time and enjoyed the film immensely.
And so, I will leave my review there. Despite the film’s beauty and the freedom and strange other worldly existence it seems to love, I found that showing it all through the eyes of a young girl, born to the lifestyle but not choosing it and surrounded by people too wrapped up in themselves to care about what it meant to her, to be disturbing and unsettling.
Verdict: I may have gone into Beasts of the Southern Wild in the wrong frame of mind, as I couldn’t bring myself to appreciate the joys that Hushpuppy experienced when all I could see was the hardship. 4 beasts out of 10.