“Daddy could’ve turned into a tree, or a bug. There wasn’t any way to know.”
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a work of pure imagination and unfettered human emotion that is easily a contender for my favorite film of the year. It’s an extremely genuine representation of childhood and the growing burdens of responsibility—but unlike most protagonists in distress, Hushpuppy’s naïve understanding of the laws of nature allow her to transcend trivial existential crises and focus on living out her life: “I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right.”
But when facing the declining health of her father and a massive flood that threatens to destroy The Bathtub—a sort of post-apocalyptic bayou village that Hushpuppy and her father Wink call their home—Hushpuppy’s world begins to fall apart. On top of that, the civilized world north of “the levee” encroaches on the Bathtub community’s way of life, and from the south, and an ancient pack of long-dormant aurochs approaches after the polar ice caps in which they were frozen begin to melt.
Benh Zeitlin’s directorial chops are off the charts—his ability to get incredibly rich performances from both non-actor leads, Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry, is simply staggering. Their chemistry is spontaneous and complex, and the development of their relationship is so organic that it’s hard to believe they’re not actually father and daughter. Both should be nominated and are easily deserving of Oscars next year. “Beasts” also has a powerful underlying commentary on the treatment of disaster victims and poverty-stricken communities that enriches the film without bogging it down with heavy-handed social messages.
The production design and art direction of The Bathtub is as important as any character in the film, and in some senses becomes a symbolic character in itself. Raw, grainy cinematography brings out the rich, earthy textures of the mud-caked village and render the world’s color with a kind of daring romantic realism that perfectly compliments the spirit of the film. The film also employs masterful editing and a brilliant original soundtrack that builds when necessary but also exercises admirable restraint for a film that feels so thematic. The whole technical ensemble comes together perfectly, and creates a true work of art that is bursting with energy and heart.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is an absolute must-see—Zeitlin’s meteoric rise to stardom is well deserved, and in my opinion, his directorial debut is more powerful than the rest of the films of 2012 combined.