Written by Yue Jie
Directed by: Benh Zeitlin
Running time: 93 minutes
Classification: PG13 – Some Coarse Language and Disturbing Scenes
Release date: 31 January 2013
“The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece, the whole universe will get busted.”
It is not often that indie films tackle issues of hardship and humanity and even less so for getting the critical acclaim that this film has garnered. First-time director Benh Zeitlin makes his foray into filmmaking with his debut feature, Beasts of the Southern Wild, that you will have to see to believe and believe to feel the emotional impact that it has to offer. Having swept awards first at the Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals and then across the globe, this surprise hit digs deep into life and its meaning with maturity despite having a six-year-old as the protagonist.
A young and determined Quvenzhané Wallis stars as “Hushpuppy” – her real name unknown, or perhaps she actually is “Hushpuppy” – and resides on an island off the coast of Louisiana bayous called “The Bathtub”, a third-world community that lives on anything that they can scavenge from their surroundings. Dwight Henry plays Wink, Hushpuppy’s drunkard father with a largely primitive behaviour who tries to teach Hushpuppy to be obedient and listen to him as he does his best to provide for her in every way he can.
As Hushpuppy’s age suggests, she is naturally ignorant and stubborn and at one point chooses to set her house on fire by a boiling pot of water just so she can get Wink’s attention. Wink arrives, brings her to safety and Hushpuppy punches him in the chest and he collapses. Next, ice glaciers fall apart and melt due to climatic change and Aurochs start to roam Earth, giving a depiction that Hushpuppy imagines herself fighting for independence in a hostile environment without knowing the perils of life that await her in the future.
One night, a hurricane hits The Bathtub and the father-daughter pair find themselves stranded in their village at dawn. They move off to learn of other survivors and together, they live under a shelter. Beasts of the Southern Wild is shown from Hushpuppy’s perspective, and when the adults teach her to cut and consume raw meat, Hushpuppy is forced to learn and triumphs, much to everyone’s applause and her surprise. It is in such scenarios where Hushpuppy is forced to open up, to learn how to adapt the hard way and realise the harsh reality of life.
Wink’s third-world mindset and fear of change prevents him from seeking treatment at a hospital after enforcement officers find him and others injured in the shelter. Huddled with kids of her age, Hushpuppy witnesses Wink as he struggles to avoid help from doctors and creates a fuss when spoken to. At the right moment, Wink escapes from the hospital with Hushpuppy and other children that follow unknowingly, telling her “it is a dangerous place.”
As Wink eventually succumbs to his injuries, Hushpuppy is left to live on her own. Through her experiences and conflicts with her inner self, she grows stronger and readily accepts what life has to offer with resolute. At her tender age, Wallis displays an extraordinary talent and an uncanny ability to understand the depth of Zeitlin’s script as she gives off a striking performance.
Though the screenplay is adapted from the play Juicy and Delicious by Lucky Alibar, also co-screenwriter alongside Zeitlin, there is no narrative that Zeitlin adheres strictly to in this coming-of-age story. Beasts of the Southern Wild makes no effort to impress either, letting the characters’ actions speak for themselves. It is part fantasy, part reality and dwells in the mystery of life, giving you the option of embracing it.
Nominated for four Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay – at the 85th Academy Awards alongside the likes of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012), Beasts of the Southern Wild certainly throws Zeitlin into the spotlight for being one of the best indie films ever made. Being the youngest nominee ever, Wallis no doubt deserves her nomination for Best Actress too. The strong message on the fight for survival is a topic rarely touched upon, especially for a directorial debut. On top of that, to have a trio of newcomers make the helm and lead cast pose a great risk for Zeitlin, but a risk well taken nonetheless.
Beasts of the Southern Wild opens exclusively at Filmgarde Cineplexes on 31 January 2012!
Check out the trailer below!