Hushpuppy: The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece breaks, even a little bit, the entire universe will get busted.
Sundance sensation, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, lives up to its name in every single one of its frames. Benh Zietlin’s first feature opens with an introduction to a world not unlike our own, but somehow simultaneously, still an entirely different one. This world looks forgotten, abandoned. Discarded keepsakes litter the empty lawns between broken down campers propped up to avoid flooding, while scattered farm animals scurry about their business. The Earth has been divided into two parts – the dry side and the wet side. No, this is not the world we know, but by the time the defenseless inhabitants make their way to their roofs to escape the torrential floods, it is certainly a world we came very close to knowing all too well not too long ago.
Zeitlin has crafted a brave picture that is exhilarating to watch, with moments of genuinely moving inspiration and other moments that are completely debilitating. Stemming from a one-act play, which was written by the co-writer of this screenplay, Lucy Alibar, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD explores this unfathomable world through the eyes of the most adorable, endearing and engrossing six-year old imaginable. Hushpuppy (played with the utmost poise and ferocity by the now 9-year old, Quvenzhané Wallis) through no choice of her own, stayed behind in an area known to the locals as “The Bathtub”, when most of the people left it behind for the dry side. You don’t get a choice when you’re 6 years old and your daddy doesn’t want to leave the land he’s known his whole life, even if it means eventually being swallowed up by the sea. Her vision of this world is intoxicating, even when things get dire and she starts to believe that she herself broke the world. “If you can fix the broken piece, everything can go back,” she boldly states at one point, when she thinks she has everything all figured out. She may have the mind of a child but she has one beast of a soul.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is without question the best film I’ve seen all year. It is a singularly unique experience that you will not want to end. As bright as Wallis shines in this film – and I assure you, you will be blown away by this little girl – Zeitlin’s direction elevates the picture to instant American classic status. The ideas are fresh and stay with you long after its over; the visual style and technique are superb and quite crafty given the restricted budget; and the statements Zeitlin makes about the environment and America’s handling of Hurricane Katrina are tasteful yet potent. Life in “The Bathtub” levels the playing field for everyone there and reminds us that we are all in fact beasts. Watching young, little Hushpuppy discover that she may be one of the lucky few who knows not only how to let that beast out, but also how to tame it, is an unforgettable film experience that should not be missed.