Holy Motors earlier in the same day, and this film is just so delightful. What I'm saying is, I fell asleep while watching it, and not because I was bored. I've since watched it again, at Stockton's ARC cinema, but I'm reminded of another film that I comfortably fell asleep while watching- Where The Wild Things Are, which was a similarly wonderful little fantasy film.
In a part of Louisiana that appears to have been flooded, the Bathtub is a walled-off community that is mostly underwater. The community that lives there seems to be managing just fine- they might even be better off. Amongst them is Hushpuppy, a six-year-old girl who lives in her own house, opposite her dad, Wink. With Wink's health deteriorating, the "threat" of aid from the world outside the Bathtub, and the approach of giant mythical beasts called aurochs, Hushpuppy must build and safeguard her own independence.
To me, this film is undoubtedly the most uniquely original film of the year, at least out of those films that don't dispense with narrative conventions in order to be original. I can hardly think of another film like it, in this or any other year, although I stand by my comparison with the soothing effect of Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are. Beasts of the Southern Wild separates itself from any other possible comparisons just by being so bloody striking, and wonderful. However post-modern your viewpoint may be, everything about this, from the setting to the action, somehow seems brand new.
In the centre of it all, Hushpuppy is the film's beating heart, and that heartbeat becomes a recurring motif for a little girl who values all life. At the same time, Hushpuppy is not to be messed with, given her stubborn wisdom and steely resolve. Quvenzhané Wallis gives an extraordinary performance, for a child actress who was only five years old when this was filmed, and she's relentlessly watchable throughout. Dwight Henry, who plays Wink, only has about as much acting experience as his very young co-star, but gives an incredibly nuanced performance, which would only look like so much anger and shouting to our intemperate young heroine, but has plenty to read between the lines.
If I wanted to dissect the film theoretically, (and I don't, particularly) I'd identify that the main theme of the film is legacy. This ties into the film's general message of environmental responsibility, with those ever-looming aurochs having been freed from a melted ice-cap, but we're never beaten around the head with it. Elsewhere, Hushpuppy is recording stories of her life in drawings, for the delectation of "scientists in the future", while her father tries to prepare her for the difficult future that is coming. It's a film that's conscious of what we're thinking must inevitably come to pass, and sets about preparing its characters to survive independently, with inexhaustible optimism.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is still showing in selected cinemas nationwide, and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on February 11th 2013.
If you've seen Beasts of the Southern Wild, why
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I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.