Tuesday, August 07, 2012
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Hurricane Katrina is never mentioned in Beasts of the Southern Wild, but to the residents of the Bathtub the name of the devastating storm that floods their homes doesn't matter anyway. Hushpuppy and Wink form an ad hoc community with a few surviving friends and wait for the waters to recede and it's here that Beasts runs into trouble. The movie's insistence on a pure, natural way of living outside the confines of American society (the Bathtub's surviving residents fight being taken to shelters) is noble and deeply American in its own way, but a scene of the transplanted Bathtubbers staging a breakout from their shelter is hard to deal with and a moment where Wink attempts to assure Hushpuppy's future is glossed over too quickly. More troubling still is Wink's involvement in the dynamiting of a levee after which (we're told) "the water goes away." Are we supposed to think that Wink caused flooding somewhere else? I'd like to sit down with a survivor of Katrina and show them this scene, and I wonder if they'd have a slightly different take from the critical mainstream. There's a good deal in Beasts that's outsized and even fantastical (those aurochs show up again), and that material doesn't mix well with scenes that skirt around the edges of the historical record. When Beasts sticks to its moving core relationship it's a truly unusual vision, but Zeitlin and co-writer Lucy Alibar (who wrote the play that's the movie's source material) want to make the movie mean too much. Yet despite its flaws, Beasts of the Southern Wild survives on the heart of its heroine. Hushpuppy is America in 2012: alive, angry, and waiting for what comes next.