Once in every great while a film comes along that it so different from everything else, so absurdly original that it changes our cultural vocabulary — at least for a good whle. So it is that Beasts of the Southern Wild, one of the smallest, sweetest, most heart-wrenching films of the year, grabs you quickly, like a catfish in delta mud, and forges a connection to the precocious heroine, Hushpuppy, so much that at time you may feel as if your heart is breaking with hers.
I knew I was in for it when the trailer, which managed to do in two short minutes what several of this year’s movies failed to do with their action-filled hours. It broke my heart into a million pieces but managed to put it back together again in the end.
The movie is a swirl of textures and color, the action sometimes muted and diffuse, but it’s this very effect that draws out the beauty in even the most dire and neglected of settings. We can almost smell the old booze and animal scents filling the rundown shacks the residents of the backwater “Bathtub” call homes.
Little Quvenzhané Wallis is a firecracker. Talent, strength and charisma pour off of her in waves, and her singular personality bears the weight of the story with assurance and gravitas. Her tiny shoulders easily support the whole world of screenwriter Lucy Alibar’s construction. Dwight Henry as Hushpuppy’s father Wink, like the rest of the cast, is a newcomer, but his is a masterful bit of acting, affecting and charged, the character making you reconsider everything you ever thought you knew about good parenting. What seems at first like brutality and neglect subtly morphs, revealing within its harsh exterior a multilayered relationship of equal parts great love and great struggle.
While large-scale disasters like storms can wreak havoc on a community, a country, crushing everything with its awesome power and ferocity, Beasts reminds us how the small losses, quiet deaths in far-flung corners of the world, leave just as much destruction in the lives of those they leave behind. This movie is about those small moments, the losses that shape us and make us strong.
I left the theater incredibly thankful to have had the experience, immersed in Hushpuppy’s magical world even if only for two short hours. Run to see this movie. Run as if giant monsters were at your heels, their hot breath on your neck. Let it sweep over you like rushing floodwaters, washing away your expectations. You’ll be glad you did.