Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

****

I hope that we don’t waste too much energy searching for life on other planets. There are plenty of places down here that are left to explore. And I don’t mean in faraway lands. There are parts of the United States that we still don’t know much about.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” introduced me to an alien society right here in America that I had no idea even existed.

The film takes place in “The Bathtub:” a little island located just outside of the civilized world. The Bathtub is in the Gulf of Mexico, a few miles south of the levee that protects New Orleans from the fury of the open sea (usually).

The hearty bayou people who inhabit The Bathtub are penniless, uneducated, and ignorant about almost everything. Everything except the precariousness of their situation. They understand that sooner or later a storm will come that will destroy everything.

These days environmentalists believe that, too. The difference is that for environmentalists, the fear is based largely on preposterous political paranoia. For the people of the Bathtub, the threat of disaster is real and ever-present.

The film’s heroine – Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) – is the toughest, bravest little girl in the history of cinema. Her mother has died, and her father is sick and undependable. Even though she is only six years old, she lives alone in a muddy shack.

Hushpuppy never complains about the hunger, the filth, or the abject poverty. But she is rightly scared of hurricanes. Her sleep is haunted by vivid nightmares about environmental catastrophe, with Mother Nature represented by a herd of giant raging boars.

When the big storm finally comes and the deluge of sea water kills all of the freshwater fish that they live on, the people of The Bathtub are forced to try anything just to survive. Anything, that is, but accepting the help of the aid workers from above the levee.

Rather than envying wealthy city folk, Hushpuppy’s father raises her to pity them and their big stores and frozen fish sticks and hospital prisons. And even though he is hardly a candidate for father of the year, his criticisms about the material world are wise.

Maybe children would be better off if they had never become addicted to toys, electronic devices, and fast food. And maybe adults would be better off if they were allowed to die naturally at home instead of being kept alive artificially in hospitals.

I am making the movie sound like a preachy, anti-civilization morality play. It isn’t. Mostly it’s a moving story about a father and daughter trying to survive and realizing how much they love each other.

“Argo” won the Oscar for Best Picture. But “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a thousand times better and more original. There’s never been a movie quite like it.

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