“Ain’t that ugly over there? We got the prettiest place on earth.”
This is the first line of dialogue of Beasts of the Southern Wild, and it’s spoken by Wink to his daughter Hushpuppy as they float near the levee that separates New Orleans from “The Bathtub,” where they live. The Bathtub is like a jungle, a third-world village, a disregarded and unattractive area that the government has left vulnerable to storms in order to protect a more lucrative tourist area around The Big Easy. The people of The Bathtub live below simple. The chicken they eat is the chicken they raise and throw on the grill with everything except the head and feathers. Sometimes dinner is a can of 9-Lives catfood. School is a shack on the river where a science illustration might include a tattoo on the teacher’s leg.
For Wink (Dwight Henry) and Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis – nominated for Best Actress), home is two separate trailers on stilts. The bathroom is the woods. When they were floating near the levee, it was in the separated bed of a pickup truck that Wink has fashioned into a boat powered with an outboard motor. Underwear and rain boots might be the only clothes for the day. And sometimes, when the time is right, you just need to have a parade. Why? Because. Wink is not much of a father, and neither of them knows where the mother might be. Wink doesn’t know all the right things to teach Hushpuppy except one – survival. He knows that there will be a day when she is on her own. He doesn’t know how to teach love except to teach survival because, in his world, life is love and the only thing to love is life. And he knows that his life is coming to an end, which is why he must teach Hushpuppy to take care of herself.
Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin and based on a play called Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar, is a story about a girl (although the play was about a boy) whose father is dying and some of the bad things she has ever learned about are crashing down upon her. These things include famine, ancient and extinct beasts, melting ice caps, and floods. Zeitlin not only directed but also helped Dan Romer (who also wrote music for some of President Obama’s campaign videos) write the music, including a wonderfully uplifting theme called “Once There was a Hushpuppy” that closes out the picture as the credits roll. Selling this film to a studio could not have been easy, nor could directing it. There are natural elements that had to be awkward to control, and I imagine there must have been numerous takes tossed out until just the right shot was right.
Beasts of the Southern Wild blurs the line between fantasy and reality, especially when reality is not all that good. The worse of the not good is when a hurricane, intended to be a Katrina-like event, approaches. Most people evacuate the low-lying Bathtub, but Wink and a gathering of friends intend to prove they are tougher than nature and the government that has shut them off. What Wink does to prepare for the hurricane seems negligent and ignorant, but it is the best he can do because he doesn’t know any better. An interesting note about Dwight Henry who plays Wink, is that he is not an actor but a baker in the New Orleans area where the film was shot. The producers had posted flyers on a wall in his bakery, and Dwight became friendly enough with them that they eventually pursued him to take the role. Initially, he turned them down because of his responsibilities at the bakery, but eventually there were adjustments made to accommodate him.
In order to truly enjoy this film, you have to be willing to walk along that blurred line. It is not a film that everyone will enjoy, especially those who don’t have an appreciation for visual arts and those who don’t have kind hearts. There are scenes in which we see that Wink doesn’t really have what it takes to be a kind father, but there’s no doubt that he wants what he thinks is best for his child – even if what he thinks is best is not really what actually is best. But that’s all any of us can do – our best. Considering this is only Benh Zeitlin’s first feature film but it has been nominated for best picture, how much more “best” can he possibly do? I don’t know, but I’ll be waiting to find out. I can’t imagine this film willing Best Picture, but I can easily imagine it was nominated for the courage it took not just to make it but for the courage of people living in Bathtubs everywhere.
Teacher gives it an A- only because limited audiences will appreciate its charm.
48 thoughts on “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Haven’t seen it (I tend to pick up books over getting movies), but your review makes me want to. Hope your weekend’s off to a great start.
Hands down best movie of the year..I have been following this film since it was in production. Benh Zeitlin is an amazing director and a true visionary of how an Indie film can take on Hollywood head to head.. Little budget, non-actors and the spirit of these people.I love everything about this film from it’s meager beginnings (Project 13) to the finished product. Soundtrack is gorgeous, and yes I bought that and the DVD..Can you tell I’m a fan..
this to me is ART!!
well done on the review and let’s go Oscars!!!
yes, this is ART. no doubt. thanks for reading. and i love the story about dwight henry.
I’m going by his bakery next month while in New Orleans..I’ll take some pics for you!!
wow. that’s cool.
This movie won the Little Rock Film Festival and is a local favorite because of the Southern connection. It’s on my Netflix list and I enjoyed your thoughtful and informative review in anticipation of seeing it. Ron
it was surprising, that’s for sure. i knew it was something that people will either love or fall asleep. i thought it was great. not necessarily “best picture” winner, but great.
I want to see this…do you want to go see Silver Linings Playbook with me this weekend??? I’m going to give it a try.
Seriously? Would love to but can’t. Already too much going on this weekend. Going to Boston tomorrow.
Seriously!! Except we are on opposite coasts…I’m in California.
ok. next weekend then.
I just saw it last night… I really really liked it and the little girl’s character has been on my mind all day today…
Didn’t know the guy who played Wink was a baker… He did a great job…
I enjoyed this post!!!
i had forgotten about the baker part and recently edited the original post, so i’m glad you didn’t read it until after that addition. thanks for reading.
Thanks for this, Rich. Insightful review, and the movie sounds almost too prophetic. I love indie films, and I’m already (since reading this) a HUGE fan of Dwight Henry. I’ll be looking forward to those pics, from Free Penny Press… and since it’s on Netflix, I’m signing off now. 😀
netflix? dangit. i paid 1.28 when i could have seen it free on my netflix account. that’s what i get for not checking there first.
Netflix offers it through mail order, so we actually paid $4.99 through our cable provider, but it was worth it! My 7 y/o daughter and I watched it that night; she said it was the best movie we’d seen in a loooong time. It has made an impression on her, and for that I’m three times appreciative, Rich. Thanks again. I’ve been telling everyone about the movie. Quvenzhané Wallis more than deserves an Oscar. She is amazing.
Great. Thanks for reading!
i’m not going to read it yet – uncanny though, like Safety Not Guaranteed, it’s queued to play at our house tonight!
i didn’t give away anything, so it’s okay if you read it, but it’s also okay if you don’t. however, play it safe, don’t read it, as you said.
I will definitely need to check this out. I saw it at the local indie theater, but I never found a way over there to catch it. I believe it is on Netflix, and if not for streaming, I will put it in the queue.
great idea. and thanks for reading.
I am one of those people who still gets Netflix DVDs by mail and this one is waiting to be watched. Only skimmed the review because I like to be surprised with movies but you liked Safety Not Guaranteed so I think I’ll like this one too. Maybe you need to be a film critic on the side too, hm?
my reviews appear on a film website, but i’m not getting paid for it as the site is not yet generating any money. maybe in the future…
I’ve wondered about this flick, Rich. I think I’d like it and then I think….is it going to be one of those deep, artsy films where I’m going to have to read between the lines? I love films that teach us something and remind us that there are others in this world going through trials we can’t comprehend. It sounds as if you recommend it, so I’ll give it a watch! Thanks.
not a lot of reading between lines except just noticing the struggles and subtext of what is going on with the father Wink and the other residents of The Bathtub.
Never heard of this one … so thanks for the recommendation.
happy to share.
… and good to have RM back today.
missed those electric teeth
odd belt on SM today. looks too snug.
Didn’t see … but BB now.
BB hair looks a little lighter in color today. Or maybe it’s the lighting.
So was CC’s …
Then it must be the lighting. Or a new staff hairstylist.
This is one of the movies on my buy list. I have heard so many wonderful things about it already, you have solidified my buy. I never do anything but watch at home. Some movies though go into my library forever.
🙂 you’re only saying that because you’re smart.
Brilliant actually, or so I have been told by those I choose to believe.
Looks pretty good, but, I am a kind-hearted person who loves visuals and has a wonderful imagination, so i might be prejudiced.
not prejudiced. human and sensitive.
I like your movie reviews. All the more so because you give an indication of who the film is for, and who not. But usually, I get the feel of the movie. Thanks.
thanks back at you for letting me know something i didn’t even realize i was doing.
You didn’t grade this one. I’m curious why not and what it would be… I think your other grades are spot on (and yes, because they match my would-be grades perfectly)
thanks. i never graded reviews until someone asked me to because they were posting my reviews on their film website, so i will go back and add that and get back to you. thanks for asking.
I loved this movie. Cry, Cry, Cry at the end. WOW. so full of emotion.