Beasts of the Southern Wild

Didn’t deserve the Sundance Film Award, but who cares.

Beasts of the Southern WildThough I can’t agree with the legendary film critic Richard Corliss’ review of Beasts of the Southern Wild  where he stated that it bordered “on a near masterpiece”, I’m afraid I must make an admission that will likely destroy whatever credibility I have remaining. It goes back to college in the 1960’s, so bear with me.

In those years at what is now known as Marian University, I was in the same financial boat as most of my friends, namely a very leaky one. However, while most of them would save their money to buy something to eat in the evening, I would rather starve to death than miss a movie.

As a consequence, we worked out a deal where they would save available breadsticks for me if I would simply review the film in what became known as “HammerleOrama.” After seeing The Chase (1966), which starred a number of well known actors, including Robert Redford, I gave it a rather glowing description. This prompted one of my friends to stop me and proceed to read a review by Mr. Corliss which described the film as, “a low grade, vile, infectious disease!” I still got my breadsticks even though I refused to back down.

Thus, while there are far too many loose ends to come close to qualifying as a cinematic masterpiece, Beasts of the Southern Wild nonetheless has a powerful theme that finds its strength in an extraordinary performance by an 8-year-old child named Quvenzhane Wallis. She is riveting at every turn, and she literally climbs into your heart while you hope she can survive a decaying environment.

She is a beautiful little girl with radiant eyes who continually speculates on her past and future. She also has to put up with a loving father who is both a horrible alcoholic and a terribly ill man.

Known as Hushpuppy, she lives with her schizophrenic father on the edge of modern society in the South. Imagine New Orleans building a large protective dyke around its southern coast after Hurricane Katrina hit several years ago, and then further imagine the poorest members of its society exposed to imminent disaster while living next to the sea. That is what takes place here, and a monstrous storm in the form of the present one hitting the Gulf Coast brings massive destruction to Hushpuppy’s world that tells the central story of the movie.

The area where she lives with other families is known as The Bathtub,
and the weakness in the film lies in the fact that all of the adults appear to be unreformed alcoholics. None of the kids go to school, and the adults, though imminently likeable, spend each day on a new bender from which they find enjoyment as well as relief.

Hushpuppy also loves the animals hanging around her decrepit dwelling, even though she must accept the fact that her father kills a different chicken each day to grill on an old barbecue. While I cannot describe the role played by the beasts in the film’s title without giving away a central theme of the movie, suffice it to say that Hushpuppy must mentally relive a moment visited regularly on Neanderthal Man as she desperately tries to preserve the last moments of a dying father who she loves.

Quite frankly, this is one of those acclaimed films that makes you feel you are lacking something profound when it simply comes up short in most areas. Like it or not, you expect to be overwhelmed and disappointment follows when you are not.

However, one cannot deny that this is at times a compelling film about little people who are simply fighting to find a way to survive. As pathetic as their surroundings are, they don’t want to leave their homes, and they cling to a life in an environment that seeks to destroy them. It is a wounded movie about wounded people so I must say, “I forgive you, Mr. Corliss.”