Beasts of the Southern Wild

Directed By: Benh Zeitlin

Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry

"The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece... the whole universe will get busted."
-Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis)

The SoberFilmCritic has the inside scoop for you today.  I just checked out Beasts of the Southern Wild, an indie based on Lucy Alibar's play Juicy and Delicious.  The moviegoers in my screening got a special treat.  After the film, we had a Q&A with producer Michael Gottwald, and he imparted some knowledge to us about his first feature film.  Now, I'm going to share some of that knowledge with you in my commentary on this great movie.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is the story of Hushpuppy (Wallis), a young girl living in a region of Louisiana known as "The Bathtub".  Beyond the levy in New Orleans, the Bathtub is a tough place to live.  With no electricity, no running water, and no real security in any sense of the word, Hushpuppy lives out in this harsh, cruel world with her father Wink (Dwight Henry).  Hushpuppy's dad raises her and teaches her how to take care of herself.  When a bad storm comes their way and wipes out most of their small community, class really begins for Hushpuppy, and Wink works even harder to show his little girl what it takes to survive in the Bathtub.  Meanwhile, Wink conceals his own illness from Hushpuppy.

For most of the cast and crew, Beasts of the Southern Wild marks their debut on the big screen.  If I hadn't heard this from Michael Gottwald's mouth, I would never have thought that the vast majority of the cast and crew had never worked on a feature film prior to this one.  The film is just so well done and so well acted that it's hard to believe.  It's also hard to believe that the film's locale is Louisiana.  Director Benh Zeitlin gives us a front row seat to depraved conditions that seem more akin to a third world country than America.  In all honesty, I never thought this movie could be inside the US when I first saw the trailer months ago.  Though the film is fictional, the harsh conditions depicted in it are based on actual communities like the Bathtub.

Quvenzhané Wallis is a powerful young actress.  Selected from a pool of approximately 4,000 auditioning girls, Wallis proves time and time again why she was such a great choice for the lead role of Hushpuppy.  Zeitlin and the producers made a terrific casting decision in bringing her onto the film.  For such a new young actress, she imbues her character with an incredible emotional depth.  This little actress packs a punch whenever she's on camera.  Given that she has no formal training whatsoever, I'm thoroughly impressed with Wallis.  If her performance as Hushpuppy is any indication, Wallis has a long career ahead of her in the movie business.

Wallis is not a unique case in Beasts of the Southern Wild though.  As I've mentioned previously, the entire cast and crew is new to the world of feature films.  Zeitlin fostered an environment on set that cultivated natural talent, and it shows in the final cut of the film.  From what I learned during the Q&A with Gottwald, Zeitlin gave the cast freedom to be themselves on camera, particularly in social scenes.  Whenever the community of the Bathtub gathered on screen, Zeitlin would give them general directions on what the goal of the scene was but the actors didn't necessarily have to follow the script to the tee.  This strategy seems to have paid in large dividends as all the cast members deliver good performances.

There are two very strong motifs in Beasts of the Southern Wild.  First, the film has a strong similarity to Noah's Ark when the storm ravages the Bathtub.  While many people in the community lose their lives during this massive storm, Wink and Hushpuppy (a male and female) get in "the boat", as Wink refers to his home, and survive.  This theme is very apparent early in the film.  Second, Zeitlin emphasizes this concept of strong animals throughout the film.  If Hushpuppy is to survive and take care of herself, she must become like a strong animal.  She must be able to deal with whatever comes her way.  Zeitlin brings this theme to life with lots of visual imagery of aurochs (prehistoric cattle).  To show her strength, Zeitlin leverages integral scenes in the film during which Hushpuppy must "beast it" or proclaim that she’s the man.  These motifs are woven quite well into the film.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a very unique experience that takes you on a powerful journey with Hushpuppy.  Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, and the cast give strong performances, and Benh Zeitlin deftly directs this emotive tale.  I know some moviegoers tend to get more emotional than others, so I'm laying down the law if you go see this movie.  Like the Bathtub, no crying is allowed.  Man up and grab a few wine coolers if you need to do so.  Beasts of the Southern Wild gets a strong 0.03% rating.