Modern Griots Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

How does one celebrate life amidst impending doom? Or for this, how does one review a movie that she had high expectations for, but was a bit of a letdown? Appreciate the specks of wonder in it. Lessons learned from the film, Beasts of the Southern Wild.

An adaptation Lucy Alibar‘s play, “Juicy and Delicious,” the film is from the point of view of Hushpuppy, a precocious little girl who at a young age has to confront the realities and truths of nature, including the mortality and ruefulness of life. She live with her father, Wink, and other members of the small Delta community, “The Bathtub.” “The fabric of the universe is coming unraveled,” said by the teacher, Miss Bathsheeba, explaining the fragility of their existence of a community threatened by floods.

Actually, the film itself felt as if any moment it would fall apart. The character holding it together was of course, Hushpuppy, played by Quvenzhané Wallis. Her ability to convey a sense of innocence, strength and maturity simultaneously was powerful. Wallis’ presence commanded the screen portraying a character who was like an old, wise soul reincarnated into a little body. Her sayings about the interconnectedness of life, listening to nature, accepting that all life must die, and the importance of leaving one’s imprint on the world for those in the future to witness was awe-inspiring. It was also a reassurance knowing the lead is such a talented Black girl, especially after the racialized eruptions over Rue in The Hunger Games, and other attacks on Black girls.

However, take her away, and the film is lacking and falls flat in some areas. While, the other characters were for the most part memorable in supporting and creating a family for the character of Hushpuppy, and the imagery had a surreal and magical quality even in the squalor of the “Bathtub,” the story at times seemed pieced together and undeveloped. First, let me say, that may have been the point of it. It is told from a young child’s point of view, thus, this raises the issue of the unreliable narrator. Since Hushpuppy is so young and her entire world is literally going under, the film may reflect the somewhat haphazard kind of life she lives.

But maybe what was missing was certain signs and tie-ins that would have helped relieve some confusion and non-compelling parts of the film. For example, the beasts who are released after the melting of the ice caps. Were they real in the film or part of Hushpuppy’s imagination, an allegory of the haunting of death and the power of nature around her? There should have been a better way to visually and clearly intertwine as well as expand on her and the beasts’ journeys.

Still, Beasts of the Southern Wild is sufficiently vibrant and enchanting due to the impressive imagery and characters, especially the little girl with a will to survive and be triumphant in the face of disaster around her.

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