a review by Nalini Haynes
I must confess I hadn’t noticed Beasts of the Southern Wild until the Oscar scandals brought Quvenzhané Wallis into the limelight.
Hushpuppy is an adorable little girl who lives in the ‘Bathtub’ near New Orleans. As the polar caps melt and the ocean levels rise, Hushpuppy is taught she must be self-sufficient or she’ll die because the levee that protects the city will drown her homeland. Hushpuppy’s father disappears for days with neither warning nor explanation. Upon his return, we learn Hushpuppy lives in her own house near her father’s house, probably to protect her from his violent temper as his illness worsens.
N. K. Jemisin has described this movie as fantasy. The aurochs coming to life out of the melting glacier may well locate Beasts in fantasy for some but I felt strongly this was more in the realm of literary speculative fiction, with the aurochs becoming a literal expression of Hushpuppy’s thoughts and feelings as she works through issues. Reading Nora’s review I realise I may have grossly misinterpreted this movie; I saw it as the near future with the sea levels rising, the poor locked out of safety via the levee and later forcibly captured and relocated in refugee centres.
The visuals of the movie were mixed. Shaky ‘hand-held’ cam applied to a significant portion of the movie. There were a few scenes where the shake was so great I couldn’t interpret the images; this could just be me (bad eyesight) but it was off-putting. For the majority of the movie, the shake was at a reasonable, watch-able level. There were scenes where the noise (dots in the images on the screen) was very noticeable. This noise was always kept to a level where it was possible for me to interpret the image although at times it was distracting. I started to look for a consistent pattern: did the noise occur when Hushpuppy was imagining the aurochs? My conclusion was that there was no discernible pattern to when this effect was used. The overall production was of such a high quality that these visual effects were no accident.
Beasts of the Southern Wild evoked memories of Sesame Street from when I was a child; poignant vignette documentaries featuring African American children both in the frame and narrating the story. In the 1990s, ABC TV showed a documentary featuring several children on their first day in school. One of the children was an Aboriginal girl in the Northern Territory whose first day at school included hunting for traditional food and digging for yams, revealing her very admirable survival skills. Finally, I felt Beasts of the Southern Wild had a genre connection with Monsters, another fiction story strongly aligned as a fictional narrative documentary.
Beasts of the Southern Wild was the winner of the Sundance film festival Grand Jury Prize for a dramatic film and winner of the Cannes Film Festival Camera D’or Fiperesci prize as well as being nominated for 4 Oscars. Highly deserving of acclaim, the acting in Beasts was commendable, particularly Quvenzhané Wallis, whose talent at age nine surpasses that of many adults.
This movie would have passed me by if it was not for the scandals arising out of the Oscars; Nora Jemisin cites the list of offences here. As this is a review not a recital of misconduct, my only comments will be to state that the attitude towards female actors at any age tends toward the feral. The attitude of people – from MCs to internet communters – towards a NINE YEAR OLD GIRL is absolutely appalling. I hope that Beasts of the Southern Wild and Quvenzhané Wallis in particular will both receive more attention and acclaim for their achievements as a result of people like me seeking out this movie because of the furore.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is highly recommended.