Hope for the Genre: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Posted: August 14, 2012 in Hope for the Genre
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

On this week’s Hope for the Genre: the movie everyone’s talking about. Prepare to be charmed, dazzled, and to have your heart completely broken. But in that beautifully-tragic-story way, not the your-goldfish-just-kicked-it way. 

Genre: Magical Realism? Southern Gothic? Bildungsroman? All of the above.

Medium: Film

The premise: Beasts of the Southern Wild blurs the line between the world’s cruelest realities and our most frightening and beautiful dreams. The reality: there’s a spit of land in the Mississippi Delta called “The Bathtub.” Around sixty people live there, including Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and Wink (Dwight Henry), her father–both abandoned by Hushpuppy’s mother. The Bathtub is a wonderfully wild place where, as Hushpuppy tells us, there are more holidays than anywhere else in the world. It’s also at the mercy of the crumbling Delta ecosystem and weather. Hushpuppy is keenly aware  of universe’s (and her life’s) imbalances and the movie shifts between the storms and their aftermath and a herd of aurochs–fierce, extinct monsters freed from the melting icecaps.

Why it’s awesome: Seriously, this movie reached into my chest and gave my heart a good, strong squeeze. Wallis and Henry are amazing and so, so genuine in their performances that you’re entirely sucked into Hushpuppy’s world. Moreover, it’s a gorgeously shot movie that doesn’t place too much emphasis on a cut-and-dry linear narrative. It’s much more meandering and episodic, which are dangerous choices to be sure, but I can’t imagine the film working any other way. This is a modern-day epic, ladies and gentleman, and it both embodies and re-imagines the form, from the sirens and the Elysian Fields to the witch-woman schoolteacher who looks after the children. Plus it’s drenched with Southern mythos in the best possible way. Not to mention the soundtrack.

Why it’s hopeful: I haven’t seen a fantasy film so darkly evocative since Pan’s Labyrinth. This movie understands what makes the most successful magical realist stories work: the interdependence between the real world and the dream world. They have to feed off each other, to counterbalance each other. When they do, the story becomes more than it would have been as a realistic rendering or a fairy tale. And I don’t mean dream world in the sense that we automatically understand that the surreal aspects of the story aren’t really there. I mean dream world in the sense that we automatically understand that it doesn’t matter what’s real and what’s not. Beasts of the Southern Wild makes you forget to ask such naive, adult questions, and I hope we see more films like it soon.


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