Feb 25, 2013

[Movies] Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Today is Oscar day, and thus it's all the more timely that I post this review for one of the more notable nominees, Beasts of the Southern Wild. This definitely falls under the category of movies that I probably would not have noticed without it having gotten nominated for so many awards by the different parties.

This movie was definitely a rather strange creation indeed, one that had me considering the full meaning of the movie than I had expected. The introduction of rather surreal elements into what could have been a relatively straightforward narrative added a nice twist to things that enhanced the overall story. And it gave it additional nuances of meaning for all of us to attempt to pick apart at our leisure, with or without repeat viewings.

But admittedly, the movie is really all about what a startling young actress Quvenzhané Wallis, who is now the youngest actress to have been nominated for Best Actress. And it is more than fair to say that she totally deserves the nomination given what she accomplished in this movie.


Synopsis: Beasts of the Southern Wild is a 2012 fantasy drama written and directed by Benh Zeitlin based on a one-act play called Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar. The movie was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress for Quvenzhané Wallis.

The movie is set in a Lousiana bayou community known as the Bathtub given how the waters have been stilled by a nearby levee. Young Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives together with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry). They have a rather simple life as Hushpuppy explores the world around her while dealing with her father, who has a bit of a temper and suffers from some unspecified ailment. Her only schooling is care of one Miss Bathsheba (Gina Montana), who teaches the children in the community about many things including the story of powerful prehistoric beasts known as Aurochs.

Wink goes missing for a bit and when Hushpuppy does find him, the two get get into an argument. One thing leads to another and Hushpuppy ends up burning their simple house down. Wink chases her and Hushpuppy fights back, accidentally triggering some sort of cardiac episode. This is all contrasted by some strange fantasy sequence where we see Aurochs frozen in the polar ice begin to drift south as their icy prisons melt.

At first the movie seemed rather heavy for completely different reasons. The small independent community of the Bathtub reminds one very strongly of all those residents who refused to move out despite the horrible conditions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And you know what kind of mixed emotions those people triggered - an odd mix of pity over their situation and yet confusion in terms of why they refused to leave their homes despite the horrible conditions. But that's just how people are when they try to fight for their homes.

I have already stated what an amazing young actress Quvenzhané Wallis is and this review would be incomplete without me citing this once more. Given how she had been cast for this role at the age of 5, it is quite surprising how well she delivered so many complex lines given she was essentially the protagonist of this movie. Beyond just delivering the dialog, she has a particular intensity that she brings to the role that presents her as being far more mature than her years would suggest. Thus she is quite the little powerhouse in this movie and all the other actors are really just there to support her performance.

The story in itself is both simple and complex at the same time. At it's core, we really just have a sort of slice of life presentation of Hushpuppy and her father Wink and showing their unique little community. From a somewhat higher perspective, we have to consider the complex relationship they maintain and the somewhat power struggle between the two. Then you have the Aurochs and how the likes of Hushpuppy have been raised with the values of the community that call for fierce independence and strength of will to survive the often harsher conditions of the area.

Did I really like the movie? That's hard to say. I can certainly appreciate the value of the story being presented but it's also not a movie that's easy to like. I am impressed with Wallis accomplished at such a young age but I'm also not too clear on what this movie wanted to tell me as a viewer. Such is typically the case with these more serious art films, and that is something to respect and appreciate about the movie. When you generate this much discussion and require this much critical thinking. That's an achievement in itself.

Beasts of the Southern Wild may not exactly be light cinema fare or the kind of movie that will ever earn mass market appeal. But it still carries with it a compelling story brought to life by an amazing creative team and that alone makes it worth your time. The movie rates 3.5 massive Aurochs traveling south out of a possible 5.



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