Beasts of the Southern Wild

Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

My feelings about the new movie “Beasts of the Southern Wild” are mixed.   I know that there are many who like and recommend this movie, but I found it to be convoluted.

While I appreciate the fact that the story of “Beasts” was not a routine, formulaic one, of which we see too much during any given summer, I just needed for the film to have a clearer narrative. This should not have been too hard to accomplish, as the movie has a very winning narrator in Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), a six-year-old girl who lives a ramshackle, rural, poverty stricken existence with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in an area called the Bathtub, in a post Katrina Louisiana, off shore form New Orleans, separated from the world by levees. 

The name, “Bathtub,” seems come from the fact that the “civilized” world, represented by smoke stacks and factories, has damned up water that used to flow freely, in effect fencing in the community in which Hushpuppy and Wink live. Father and daughter live in shacks, as do the other members of their community.  Hushpuppy and Wink live off the land or, more accurately, the water, through fishing.  They  have a motor boat which seems to have been slapped together from truck parts.

“Beasts” is well acted, by a cast of non-professionals, especially Wallis, who is truly a find.  Hushpuppy is wise beyond her years.  She espouses a sociological, functionalist perspective.  “The whole universe depends on everything fitting just right,” she tells us.  Of her Bathtub neighbors she observes that, “Nobody cares about these people but themselves.”

The film also contains the titular, well rendered in CGI (computer graphics imaging), beasts which appear to be giant pigs.  They seem to represent some sort of coming doom but I just did not completely understand their place in the story.

What I did manage to glean form the story is that it is one  of survival, change, global warming, the definition of civilization, modern medicine and, I am sure, many other issues.  One of the film’s problems is that it does not pick one issue and develop it.  Perhaps this is because the story is told from the point of view of a six-year-old, albeit a very smart six-year-old.  A more expositional voice over and maybe even a few title cards to clarify the story would have worked better for me.

“Beasts” is playing locally at Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema, 143 East Houston Street.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild,” director Benh Zeitlin, 2012,

Fox Searchlight, 91minutes, PG-13


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on July 20, 2012, in New and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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