Oscar Watch: "Beasts of the Southern Wild" [Review]

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The Indie darling of late has been Beasts of the Southern Wild, a little film about a community living just off a levee in Louisiana in a place called The Bathtub. The focus of the film is on Hushpuppy, a 5 year old girl, and her father, as they make a life off the grid. The world is divided into The Bathtub and the Dry World (the civilized world). Their life stands in stark contrast to the life that most of us live in the Dry World. In the Dry World, kids usually go to traditional schools and learn the usual subjects. In The Bathtub, the kids are taught by the adults in the community. One of the ladies teaches them about animals, the ice age, and about the healing properties of plants and nature. Her father teaches her how to fish with her hands and eat a crab by "beasting it", cracking it open with her bare hands without using any tools. Clearly, the idea is to teach a child to be independent and to survive under the harshest of conditions.

Image courtesy of Cinereach Ltd

But Hushpuppy is still just a child, and she longs for her missing mother. It is never quite clear where her mother went, but all Hushpuppy has is some of her belongings. She develops a relationship with her mother in her imagination, having conversations with her. She lives in her mother's old trailer which is next door to her father's trailer. That's right- a 5 year old lives in one trailer and her father lives in the one next door. They aren't bothered with cleanliness or order. It's basically getting from one day to the next.

The people of The Bathtub are happy, though. They regularly celebrate life with sparklers and music. No one seems to be missing the modern conveniences that the rest of us are so used to having. But as will happen, their idyllic life becomes threatened when a terrible storm floods The Bathtub. Drastic measures have to be taken for them to survive, but these measures catch the attention of the outside world. Just as with wild beasts, the people of the bathtub fight the attempts of the Dry World to tame them. Is it right for society to push their values and lifestyle onto a group of people that are happy with their lives? Even if it differs in every way from our own? These are some of the questions asked in the film.

The cinematography is amazing. The film flows from one scene to the next seamlessly, with perfect editing. And the performances: let me just say wow. Hushpuppy is played expertly by newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis. The role could have been played as too precious by any other child actor, but Wallis is restrained. Yes, she is wise beyond her years to a certain extent. If you had to do most things for yourself by the age of 5, you would be, too. But inside, at times, she is still a scared little girl who misses her mother and is afraid her daddy will leave her.

Her father is played by Dwight Henry, also a newcomer. Henry was the owner of a restaurant located across the street from the casting agency. On a lark, he auditioned for the part and got it. And I must say, he does not seem like a newcomer at all. He is the glue that holds the film together. He is real and raw and exposed. You can absolutely see him in this world because he has lived it. A Katrina survivor, Henry knows what it's like to lose everything to floodwaters. But it's his honesty and warmth that ultimately makes for a remarkable performance. It's clear early on that his character, Wink, is not a well man. Years of drinking and hard living have taken a toll and he doesn't have a lot of time left. He knows that he needs to teach Hushpuppy all he can before he goes.

Their could have been a temptation to get overly sappy and emotional in the film, but luckily the director resists. Wink is an uneducated man living in a harsh world. Wink doesn't have time to indulge in sadness or regret. His job is to be her daddy and to make sure she "don't die." 

The other members of The Bathtub community are also played by non actors. The decision to cast unknowns and people who live in the actual area makes the whole story believable. It's not flashy or Hollywood; it's real.

It's been a while since I have seen a film that I can strongly recommend to everyone and Beasts of The Southern Wild is it. I would definitely urge you to see it before The Oscars.

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