Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Gina Montana, Lowell Landes, Jonshel Alexander, Marilyn Barbarin, Kaliana Brower, Nicholas Clark, Henry D. Coleman and Philip Lawrence.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is an independent fantasy drama directed by Benh Zeitlin, it is his first movie. It is based on a one-act play "Juicy and Delicious" by Lucy Alibar who co-wrote the movie with Zeitlin. Beasts of the Southern Wild caught my attention when it got a superb response at the Sundance Film Festival earlier last year, it also won many awards at Cannes as well and quite recently, its been recognized by the Academy as well with 5 very deserving nominations. What is it that makes this movie a filmmaking triumph for me? I would say that the commitment, artistic creativity and the reliance on good work rather than aiming for something superficial by the filmmaker is what makes it quite an accomplishment since we are able to see the behind the scene troubles or struggle it must have took for them to make everything work. Now Beasts of the Southern Wild tells the story of this southern Louisiana bayou community called "Bathtub". This community is cut off from any other land by a levee and is threatened to be hit by a big storm. In the middle of all this, we see a six-year old girl Hushpuppy (Wallis) and her ill and very short-tempered father, Wink (Henry). Hushpuppy along with other children are being taught very useful things in their school by a teacher who tells them about the importance of mother nature and how its been destroyed which is resulting in the melting of ice caps. Their is also a parallel story concerning about the release of these dangerous prehistoric creatures called "Aurochs" from those melting ice caps who will destroy everything that comes in their path. From the very first few moments in the movie, Quvenzhane Wallis takes over the entire narrative as the story maybe about a fictional recreation of hurricane Katrina, representation of the colorful and joyful spirit of the southern Americana and a story that is filled with magical, mystical, poetic and social realism but all of these things are actually connected in many sense with this little girl that Wallis portrays. The movie belongs to her because we see this world through her eyes and we hear the very innocent thoughts she has about the world she sees in her way. To me, above everything, the portrayal of a child's innocence in even worse conditions and how they see the ugliness of the world around them channeling all that into an image of the world they want or believe to see is quite amazing. Hushpuppy is all about that, she is very strong and much more brave than any other boy or girl of her age.
This is part fairytale and part recreation of realistic moments that have haunted us, whether its the effect global warming had on us, the destruction of nature by our very own hands or the terrible and difficult life many people around the world live. Hushpuppy doesn't have a mom, her father is often drunk, angry and his health condition is declining with every passing moment. In one of the many arresting moments in the movie, we see Hushpuppy telling us about her mother who isn't with them right now. She thinks of her mother as someone with a greater power, this charismatic, strong and mysterious woman who can light fire without even doing anything. It is one of those moments which are quite creatively added in the movie that presents us a vision of this very young, passionate, racing and growing mind of a small girl who perceives things in particular way that are somewhat beyond her understanding. When she hears some important piece of information from someone, she gives it a deep thought and give her own point of view. It is because we hear Hushpuppy's inner feelings and thoughts, the movie is narrated and presented by her. At one point, the storm actually arrives and it leaves Bathtub destroyed. While many people flee the area, both Hushpuppy and Wink decides to stay. In one of the most poignant and brilliant moments, Wink tries to calm her daughter down by telling and showing her that he can scare off these angry clouds by shooting towards them. No matter how much of anger or frustration he shows at her, she is her child after all and he loves her dearly. Wink wants her daughter to be strong enough to face anything in her life. Hushpuppy's tale can be a very thoughtful example for younger people, even though this movie isn't actually for kids but the very effective way the "Be strong/Never give up" and such kind of messages that are delivered to kids by many of their targeted movies are found here. It is a sheer joy to watch Quvenzhane Wallis be Hushpuppy and her story has this brilliant, uplifting and powerful effect on us that lasts even after the movie ends.
Quvenzhane Wallis, my God, her performance is just wonderful in the movie. More than that, its her presence in the movie that holds not only us but the entire movie together. Her eyes, the way she talks and thinks and be in front of the camera, the level of perfection she brings so easily is what i would say is a lesson for all the adult actors. The moments she has with her father, she is able to look him in the eye and speak for herself and for him. Wallis is a force to reckon with, she has the power to even make the beasts stop and bow in front of her (quite literally too). On the other hand, we have Dwight Henry who gives one of the best supporting performances of the year, a highly overlooked one. Keep in mind that they are all non-actors, they haven't acted their entire life. Wallis who now everyone knows was actually 6 years old when the movie was being shot and is 9 year old right now. Henry's depiction of a dying, alcoholic, abusive, violent father who cares for her daughter and wants to do anything he can for her daughter's well being when he isn't around is spectacular. He is happy when he sees Hushpuppy getting stronger and on her own. The most heartbreaking, emotionally powerful and heartwarming moments comes in the movie when both of them are together. It amazes you how much Hushpuppy is willing to do for her father, how much she cares about his health. Hushpuppy as much as loves her father, she misses her mother and at one point where she hears about her father's condition, she leaves to look for her mother with few of her friends escaping from the shelter home in a boat. They are able to reach a ship which looks like a bar and inside it, she meets a waitress who just might be her mother. Hushpuppy sees her mother in her, the things that her father told her about her mother, she is able to see them in that waitress. Hushpuppy wants to live with her because her father is no longer going to be around her, she wants her mother. That scene with its quite dream-like and meditative power will sweep you away if you carefully watch the movie. In the nurturing, comforting and strangely mystical arms of that lady which reminds her of her mother, she forgets everything for a while and that scene becomes a wonderful and comforting part for us too.
I would really like to compliment the cinematographer of this movie for capturing the beauty of that world in such excellent way. The camera follows Hushpuppy around following her little steps and is able to capture fully every moment she has in her life. In the beginning of the movie, you would see a scene with lots of fireworks as everyone celebrates, children run around and Hushpuppy is enjoying running around between all these magical and striking colorful lightning trying to really enjoy that particular moment in her life. This movie also has this thunderous, magical and immensely bombastic score and the uses of music that sweeps you off. The note on which the movie ends, when Hushpuppy promises to live her life the way she is suppose to and be the king of her own world, it leaves you with that winning and celebrating feeling because of the sheer joy of the music. Ever since i have seen this movie, i am not able to get the wonderful score of this movie out of my head. It has ever since became this anthem for me, for my life to enjoy the very beauty of it. Life is beautiful no matter what, it is definitely you who will determine its course and through everything that you have to face, you create your own way. Beasts of the Southern Wild celebrates life, it offers us an account of what we should do with ourselves by celebrating what we have been given rather than destroying it. Also those messages doesn't comes off as rather preachy or heavy handled. It is part cautionary tale shedding light on an important topic. The changes in our Eco-system, the changing world, the mess we have created not just in our life but in others and all together, in the universe. It is quite subtle in that way how it delivers that through the character of Hushpuppy, never too loud but instead quite impactful.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a towering achievement for Benh Zeitlin who made his feature film debut with it. This movie is his creation and it speaks for his preference of creating something meaningful over filling his pockets with money. The way he lets the actors do whatever they want to within the context of their characters or how they want to be in those situations which partly reflects what they have been through in their own life is striking. I mean even for a single moment, you wont believe or realize that these actors are working on their first movie and neither will you feel like watching a movie by an amateur because Zeitlin have created a masterpiece that is going to be appreciated and highly regarded for years to come. This is an original creation by him, a visually stunning, thematically clear and profoundly moving movie. It has a lyrical beauty to it, it unravels quite delicately the layers that Zeitlin and his co-writer created with such poetic beauty that it is a joy on its own. This movie have moved me and affected me beyond my expectations. One of the most remarkable experiences you will ever have watching a movie with this much uniqueness, bizarreness and messiness that it uses for its own good.