Saturday, August 11, 2012

Movie Review: "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Although my taste in books and movies tends to be all over the place, I'm a fairly straightforward person. While I appreciate some symbolism, and don't need everything literally spelled out for me by a skywriter, I am not a fan of allegory. I do not like to watch a movie and wonder (without any obvious conclusion) whether what I am seeing is actually happening, if it's a dream, or if it symbolizes something completely different.

This, of course, spells out the issue I had with Beasts of the Southern Wild, a beautifully acted, visually arresting movie that confused the heck out of me.

Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis, an absolute marvel) lives with her father, Wink, in a rundown Delta community called The Bathtub. (Her mother abandoned them when she was an infant.) The Bathtub is a somewhat magical place, where although extremely poor, the residents "celebrate more holidays than anywhere else in the world," often with fireworks and a great deal of alcohol. Wink practices a lot of tough love with Hushpuppy, as he tries to encourage her independence but isn't enamored of her sass. Hushpuppy has learned that the world around her is changing—temperatures are rising, the ice caps are melting, and in her mind, prehistoric creatures called aurochs (which look like larger wildebeests) are being unleashed once again. But as Wink grows sicker and sicker (from an undefined illness), he wants to be sure she can take care of herself.

When a storm of Katrina-esque proportions leaves The Bathtub submerged underwater and destroys their ramshackle home, the remaining residents celebrate their survival in their usual way—drunken revelry, eating as much as possible, and reminiscing. But after several weeks underwater, they take dramatic action to rid their area of all of the water.

And it was at this point that I felt the film started to lose its way. The government evacuates The Bathtub, Wink gets sicker, and Hushpuppy somehow goes on a search to find her mother, and I'm not sure whether she actually does. But along the way, she realizes how much courage she has, and how much she is loved and loves her community. (That's a simple description so as not to spoil what happens, plus there are a lot of visuals of the aurochs thundering over the delta.)

Wallis gave a sensational performance that didn't feel forced, overacted, or fake in any way. (Some have already put her on the short list for an Oscar nomination.) Other than film newcomer Dwight Henry, who played Wink, many of the characters were fairly one-dimensional, and didn't stand out much. (Quite often I couldn't understand what they were saying either.)

This is a movie with a lot of heart that made me think. But sadly, it also made me wonder quite a bit just what was real and what wasn't. So if you see the movie, let me know so we can discuss it!

Watch the trailer.

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