The last film for me to see of the nine films nominated for Best Picture at the 85th Academy Awards was Beasts of the Southern Wild, a film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2012, so it’s been out for quite a while. This is another of those films that I knew nothing about until I actually saw it, and, now that I’ve seen it, I still can’t tell you much about it except that it’s touching.
For this film, it seems best to use the short summary found over on its IMDB page: “Faced with both her hot-tempered father’s fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.”
Beasts of the Southern Wild takes place in a world outside of our own, where the people live off the land and have a sort of oneness with nature. After reading a bit about the film, I’ve learned that most (if not all) of the actors who appear have little to no previous acting experience, including the lead actress, Quvenzhané Wallis, who is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. The lack of acting experience in the film may worry some, but I thought that it gave the movie a sense of authenticity; these are real people. We see everything through Hushpuppy’s (Wallis) six-year-old eyes, meaning that her imagination is ours. Her father, Wink, played by Dwight Henry, may have a “hot-temper,” but it’s shown throughout the film that he loves Hushpuppy and that he wants nothing more than for her to survive, especially if he’s not around to take care of her. The most touching scene in the film has Wink telling Hushpuppy that he’s not trying to get rid of her but that he can’t take care of her because he’s dying. She responds with, “Don’t be saying things about dying,” and, after he tells her that everyone’s daddies die, she responds with, “Not my daddy.” It’s her innocent outlook on life and her sense of responsibility in a world where she must learn to take care of herself that makes her such a passionate character that you love from the start.
One aspect of the film that I didn’t quite understand, though, is the “aurochs” mentioned in the IMDb summary above. They’re introduced early in the film as prehistoric creatures that are trapped in the melting polar ice caps, and the kids are told that the creatures will come and hunt them down once they finally thaw out. As the movie progresses, we see the ice caps melting, releasing these aurochs, and we see snippets of their travel as they make their way down to the little community of Bathtub. It seems to me that they are simply used as a device to point out the need for Hushpuppy to learn to fend for herself; with the population of Bathtub dwindling and her father being as sick as he is, the time is fast approaching, like the aurochs, for her to be able to survive alone. Nick over at TheMovieSpoiler.com (spoilers in link, obviously) points out that both Hushpuppy and the aurochs are beasts of a nearly extinct species, as the Bathtub community is dwindling.
I don’t want to spoil anything, so it’s best that I wrap it up. This film explores the importance of love, sacrifice, and being one with nature, and I imagine that it’d be hard for anyone to dislike it, though I’d understand if someone didn’t absolutely love it. The cast of unknowns brings a lot to the film, but no one does this better than the young Quvenzhané Wallis, who, at the age of nine, is the youngest actress to ever be nominated in the Best Actress category. I doubt she wins, but her performance as Hushpuppy is strong, brave, thoughtful, and inspiring. Even if you like nothing else about this film, Wallis will still touch your heart. Beasts of the Southern Wild has already grown on me, even in the short time its been since I watched it, and I won’t hesitate to watch it again. A. O. Scott with The New York Times calls it “a blast of sheer improbable joy”…while I’m not sure that “joy” is the right word, it’s still a fantastic film.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language and brief sensuality