Heart warming and harrowing, mystical and raw, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is an idiosyncratic masterpiece, a modern-day fairytale of the realness of life. Following a little girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in the unique gypsy-like camp they call the Bathtub, it is quietly enchanting and brutally frank in equal measure as it portrays the forces of man and nature in a tussling coexistence.
As Hushpuppy, Wink, and their friends struggle to survive in the aftermath of a monsoon destroying their simple life, the film meditates on each moment even as it throws it away; floats on each frosted breath of air even as a storm hurls and rages. Each hushed and magical frame bows in respect to the next. Equanimity reigns between large and small in a celebration of the poetry of the everyday.
6-year-old Hushpuppy is already a master of survival of the emotional kind, a steadfastly hard and furrowed expression never leaving her exquisite doll-like face.
6-year-old Hushpuppy is already a master of survival of the emotional kind, a steadfastly hard and furrowed expression never leaving her exquisite doll-like face. She smiles only once, upon reuniting with her estranged mother, and cries only once. The single spurient smile seems twisted and forced, must be practised; yet it does not return to her face. It is not a priority in the everyday task of survival. Her tears are similarly singular, blinked back as soon as they fall from her eyes. It is childhood emotion furiously contained then manifested in the form of bestial screams and guttural howls. The child is philosophical and matter-of-fact, but denies feeling to the extent that, watching it, your heart bursts with the excess.
This is not the depressing experience it may seem, however. The joyful keys of the dancing, climbing, uplifting soundtrack are as endlessly positive as the characters’ hard-faced determination and acceptance of the cruel yet beautiful circle of life in the Bathtub. The tone is one of eternal optimism – a gasping, spinning fight to the death in the force of a truly lived existence.
(Our thanks to the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford for providing the review screening)