A buddy-system blog of film reviews.
Inspired by E.M. Forster's rhetorical question: "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?"
Please let me know if you'd like to take a stab at writing a review. (I've been told that the experience is a combination of mass frustration and deep satisfaction.)
I will watch anything! Bring it on...
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Caitlin's Review of Beasts of the Southern Wild
Beautality by Caitlin Murphy
Walking into Beasts of the Southern Wild, I knew
about as little as one can know about a film before seeing it.I had glimpsed the poster image.And what I thought I saw was the back-lit silhouette
of a long-armed alien.The alien turned
out to be Hushpuppy, a 6-year old black girl, running through the woods,
holding fire-crackers, and trailing sparks behind her. And from the film’s opening images – Hushpuppy
alone, wearing boy’s briefs and rubber boots, playing in the mud and pressing
little animals to her ear in attempt to hear their thoughts – I knew I was a
stranger in an endearingly strange land.
Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Behn Zeitlin, who co-wrote the
screenplay with his friend Lucy Alibar (based on her play Juicy and Delicious), is a sort of dark fantasy set off the shores
of Louisiana in an area known to its residents, as “The Bathtub”.Hushpuppy and her hardened father, Wink
(Dwight Henry), live in separate raised trailers, surrounded by their animals (some
pets, some dinner).When a massive storm
descends on them, “The Bathtub” is flooded; the few who remain alive join
together, as survival become an even more brutal game. This impromptu family is
also filled with caring and kindness though, and lessons abound about always
watching out for the littlest ones among us.As Hushpuppy intuitively knows with her animals – we must listen hardest
for the voices we can’t hear.
in Beasts of the Southern Wild is
itself a filmmaking feat.With so many
locations, so much water(!), and such crazily cramped and dilapidated spaces,
the attention to detail is remarkably evocative.One couldn’t help but wonder how much of the
rich environments was already in situ and how much was staged. And with half the cast hailing from Louisiana
bayou country, the sense of placein the
film is intimately drawn and acutely felt.The real-life images of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, as well as those
of other recent disasters, of course, hang awkwardly in the air.
The levee that
separates ‘civilized society’ from “The Bathtub”, protecting it from the flood,
serves in the film as a metaphorical divide between those aware of nature’s
dominance, and those who naively seek to obliterate it.And through Hushpuppy’s imaginings of massive
icebergs crumbling, and pre-historic beasts grunting back to life, we are
reminded that our sense of control over nature is illusory, and that we are
heading for a painful wake-up call to that effect.In this sense, a central tenet of the film
seems to be, very broadly, that a reckoning is coming.
As the young Hushpuppy,
the even younger Quvenzhane Wallis (her mother brought her to audition for the
film at 5 years old, even though the call for actors said they had to be 6) is
fiery, vulnerable, and eerily present.Her father calls her ‘man’ and fervently drills into her his most
treasured life-lessons– how to rip a crab apart (‘beast it!’), flex one’s
muscles, and not ever ever cry – and Hushpuppy goes toe-to-toe with him just as
he implores her to. She doesn’t so much
try to match others though, as she does to meet them.
In one of the
film’s most striking moments, Hushpuppy scribbles images of her life on a cardboard
box that she hides under, as a self-set fire threatens to engulf her in her
trailer.Having learnt about cave
drawings at school, she wonders how she will be remembered, deciding that if
her life can’t be saved, then at least her story can be.She asks how her existence, her father’s, and
their time in “The Bathtub” will be made known to outsiders and
descendants.And in this sense, Beasts of the Southern Wildis
overtly political: Hushpuppymarches against the tendencies of history and dominant
culture to shore up some stories and let others wash away. The film is an indictment of our strange ability
to ignore so many real lives lived.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is Court 13’s first feature-length film. Clearly, like its heroine, the company is
young, small and mighty.