Friday, February 22, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Directed by: Behn Zeitlin
Runtime: 93 mins
Only available through the mail at this time with Netflix, at Redbox Kiosks, or digital rental from Amazon ($3.99) or Google Play ($4.99).
4/5*

Time to look at one of the films nominated for the various Academy Awards:

It takes a little while into this movie to really understand the situation.  Hushpuppy (Quvenzhan√© Wallis), a young girl, and her father Wink (Dwight Henry) live in a place known as The Bathtub. It's a noman's island south of New Orleans that may as well be it's own country.

It's a place where people live to survive and celebrate life on a regular basis.  Their ramshackle homes and dirty clothing would bother most, but to them they truly believe they live in the most beautiful place on earth.  They don't want help, or interference from the outside world. People want to help them, or bring them back to the mainland, but you'd have to drag them kicking and screaming away from their homes.  Even when a big bad storm comes along to wash away their homes and flood their bathtub, these people won't leave.

In the bathtub life has devolved to a state that most of the civilized world could not stand. They are far more in touch with the natural world than most of us. Wink teaches his daughter about how to survive in what could pass for a post apocalyptic land.  You get the sense that as they run out of things like gas, and battery power and other such things their world would devolve further, and they would all adapt to a way of life before people relied on those things. This film is a fantasy world, but not the type you normally would think of.  It's a bit like Where the Wild Things Are, because this film is told from the child's perspective, and so much of the film is about these "beasts" and how they find humanity in the end.

Hushpuppy frequently hold animals to her ear to listen to their heartbeat. Her father's heart is going bad, he wants her to be tough and be able to survive without him.  He tells her, her mother swam away, and Hushpuppy calls out to her hoping she'll come back one day.  She swims away to find her, but as her dad tells her, she will be the king of the Bathtub.  The "beasts" are her family, the ones that she can speak to and the ones that they will eat to survive, but in the end she has to learn to take care of herself. She has been taken care of by her father, but his heart is failing, so she must grow to be able to take care of him.

This film made me think of a dark, gritty, live action Miyazaki film. His films tend to be about young girls who are scared and eventually, through time spent in their fantastical world, grow up and learn to change the world around them.  Similarly to Spirited Away (even though I don't want to say these films are that alike...) Hushpuppy must grow up in a strange world and save her father, much like Chihiro must save her parents.

These mythical beasts that supposedly were king of the beasts, and had been frozen during the ice age return to the world after the ice melts.  They don't really exist, no one else sees them.  There are four of them and they run toward the bathtub, as the four little girls run back to their families in the bathtub.  As the other three back away, or run ahead, Hushpuppy stops to face the leader.  She understands them, she has become king of the beasts.

And in case you were wondering, yes it's true, Wallis and Henry are not professional actors and they are amazing in their roles.  Dwight Henry owns a pastry shop in New Orleans, and just so happens to be in this film, his first and according to him, his last.  Quvenzhan√© Wallis on the other hand will likely continue acting, and have more chances at award nominations.  They both deserve nominations for awards for this film (even if they don't win), but only Wallis has been recognized.  For that matter Behn Zeitlin is very deserving of his best director nomination as well.  Working with children is difficult as it is, working with mostly non-actors and having the film hang on their performances is very difficult, and it all works out beautifully in this film, and it's worth mentioning that this is his first feature film, so that makes it an achievement all the more.  Also, this may be neither here nor there, but I also really like the music in this film, it won't be nominated or anything, but I think the music is also very good.

It's not for everyone, but this film is certainly worth watching if you can get a copy of it.