Be reminded of how cinema-going can be an experience, and discover your purpose in life by listening to the wise words of a six-year-old squatter in Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Watching the trailer for this film I felt an excited buzz in my tummy that had nothing to do with the large quantities of popcorn I had already consumed. I had no idea what on earth the film was about; all I knew was I HAD TO SEE IT.
Set on an isolated island off New Orleans dubbed ‘The Bathtub’ by the forgotten, yet spirited locals, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a story of defiance and community. Told through the eyes of a six year old girl named ‘Hushpuppy’ (played by newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis) who lives with her dying father, the story explores the notion of a modern day tribe whose existence is threatened by rising water levels and interfering outsiders.
Beasts is the first feature film by Benh Zeitlin (what a debut!) and is based on the one act stage play Juicy and Delicious by playwright Lucy Alibar. Alibar is a personal friend of Zeitlin and co-wrote the screenplay with him. The pair found post-hurricane Katrina locations in the ravaged bayous of Louisiana to shoot, constructing an utterly convincing settlement perched among flooded landscapes.
The script is complex, oozing with multi-layered emotions, complicated relationships, myth and legend, and insightful social comments. The cinematography is full of powerful imagery, the soundtrack is inspired and the direction is superb. Yet there is only one thing audiences will go away talking about…. This is certainly Wallis’ film. Lying about her age to audition (she was five and the minimum age was six) her screen test was reportedly so astounding Zeitlin went back to rewrite elements of the script to incorporate Wallis’ natural strength of spirit.
The film is truly a community achievement, with Zeitlin’s friends and family working as crew and financers. The role of Hushpuppy’s father is played by Dwight Henry who was the baker working over the road from the space in which the crew were casting. It took every single crew member to rendezvous at the bakery to persuade Henry to sign on to the cast, and he only did so upon agreement that rehearsals would be scheduled to suit his midnight baking hours.
I swear this heartfelt spirit was somehow infused into the very film on which this movie was shot. As you sit in the cinema you feel as though you are truly sharing an experience.
I felt challenged and conflicted, and ultimately guilty that I judged the Bathtub residents for their primitive way of life. But as the last frame hit the screen I felt ultimately reassured about my place in the great tapestry that forms our existence.
As Hushpuppy so eloquently states: “I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right”.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is on limited release, but you should really get off your butt and find a cinema that is screening it. I rate it 8 out of 10 stars.