3 Stars — Thought-provoking
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a unique film. A mythical tale that is told in a documentary style, the theme explores the cataclysmic threats to our survival from the uncomplicated perspective of a 6-year-old girl. Locating the threat in a small corner of Louisiana that has been abandoned by the levies, the group of people living there in “the bathtub” has the awareness that their days are numbered.
Such a threatened life is lived in denial but with a commitment to partying well with “more holidays” than those who live on the “dry land” on the other side of the levies.
Written as a semi-autobiographical tale of her own life, Lucy Alibar originally wrote the script for a one-act play. When director Benh Zeitlin wanted to bring it to the screen in his own unique style, their collaboration created this acclaimed film. Choosing to cast people who have never acted before, the power of the film includes their raw emotions as they bring their own responses to the experience.
The young girl who narrates the film with her 6-year-old logic and beliefs is Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis). Having been abandoned by her mother and raised by her abusive father, Hushpuppy is a survivor.
Sitting in the classroom of an eccentric teacher who teaches from a survival mentality, she is told that, due to the melting of the ice caps, they will soon lose their home to the rising waters, setting free the prehistoric aurochs who will devour them.
Her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), is a confusing mixture of abuse and love, a leader in the community who uses alcohol as a coping mechanism and social glue. The community who responds to him is a cross-section of races and ages with a united commitment to live and die in the bathtub.
The cinematic presentation and the raw human emotions of Beasts of the Southern Wild are exceptional. However, the film is so unique that it may not appeal to all viewers. But it speaks to the primal awareness that life has an ending, and surviving will take all the courage we have. That is a message needed in these climactic times.
» Placing his daughter in a separate trailer where she creates an imaginary relationship with her absent mother seems cruel of Wink. What would you do if you were a neighbor observing this parental behavior?
» When Wink discovers he is ill, he uses his well-developed ability to live in denial. How do you deal with catastrophic threats? Do you prepare for them or avoid thinking about their frightening possibilities?
» When the prehistoric monsters finally catch up with Hushpuppy, she turns and faces them. Her ability to overcome her denial gives her a strength her father is lacking. What do you believe happens to her after her father’s death?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.