Beasts are rarely safe. They are wild.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is not a safe film.
It is a storm film about a little girl who lives with her father in a place called the Bathtub.
We see from the eyes of the little girl, the little hero, the one her dad calls “king” or “man.” Raised like a boy to survive in condemned swamp land, the father who means well can only teach what he knows. She relies on her imagination, her observations, and the memory of her mother for comfort and company. It is much like the film The Fall (2006) in that we see as she sees, dream as she dreams.
We hear her philosophies about the way the world works inside the universe. We hear with her the heartbeats of every beast she listens to.
She is precious, and we want her to have what she needs. This film shows her responses to neglect, alcoholism, fear, ignorance, poverty, survival, and death.
When we face our greatest longing, hold it tight, then let it go, do we know then that we are grown? And when we face our greatest fear, stare it down, and find we are looking at ourselves will we crumble? Or will we recognize new strength in befriending these new selves?
There is a lesson that I feel I should have learned before this film from Achebe‘s novel Things Fall Apart, something about not thrusting my own cultural assumptions and expectations on another’s. But this film, though beautiful in so many ways, is very difficult to watch.
There are echoes of Where the Wild Things Are, but these beasts are real. She is a beast. Her father is a beast. The beast friends and fellow Tub-dwellers rely on alcohol and primal assumptions to drive courage. If these are the Beasts of the Southern Wild, then we must be the beasts of our own neighborhoods, simply trying to make the most of what we’ve got. Beasts are not tame, nor are they safe, but even beasts show love in their own ways. Disturbing and memorable,
…this is a story about a girl called Hushpuppy who lived with her father in a place called the Bathtub.