Why Hushpuppy Can Handle Beasts of the Southern Wild Saturday 06 October, 2012

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Beasts of the Southern Wild, a magical realist film directed by Benh Zeitlin, tells the story of a southern Louisiana bayou community, called the Bathtub, from the perspective of one of its youngest dwellers, Hushpuppy.  The film’s highest note is the poignant performance by Quvenzhane Wallis, Hushpuppy. I found myself marveling at this little human […]

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Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Beasts of the Southern Wild, a magical realist film directed by Benh Zeitlin, tells the story of a southern Louisiana bayou community, called the Bathtub, from the perspective of one of its youngest dwellers, Hushpuppy.  The film’s highest note is the poignant performance by Quvenzhane Wallis, Hushpuppy. I found myself marveling at this little human being’s ability to deliver a performance so powerful and so moving, to play a complicated character in a complicated world, and to carry the entire movie on her 5-year old shoulders.

The whole movie is seen through Hushpuppy’s eyes, illustrating the reality around her but also the reality she creates through her imagination. When a storm begins, Hushpuppy envisions aurochs released from their frozen state, charging towards the Bathtub. When they reach the Bathtub, Hushpuppy faces them, bravely and so they retreat. We can’t differentiate between what actually occurred and what she dreamt; the line between what is real and her imagination is always changing.

I was deeply moved by the scene in which Hushpuppy was in the shelter, wearing a blue dress, her hair neatly combed, being scolded by one of supervisors. It’s as if they wanted to make something orderly out of her, make her fit into a supposed mold of what a little girl should look and act like, even if they were well intentioned. They, in fact, crushed her spirit, they made her into something she’s not, and you can see her discomfort in the way she lurks in the background, head bowed down, when just a few scenes ago, she was running around freely in the Bathtub.

Among the criticisms leveled at this movie has been that it romanticizes poverty and anarchy, especially exemplified in the depiction of callous government workers trying to “save” the people of the Bathtub, and their subsequent fleeing of the shelter/hospital back to the endangered Bathtub, as if showing the Bathtubers would rather drown than be affiliated with government and civilization. Beasts seemed to be depicting a forgotten little piece of the world that literally exists beyond the gates of civilization.

I realized, however, that while the people of the Bathtub may struggle with their vulnerability to the whims of nature, they are really not poor. They are not poor because they don’t have to suffer with social schisms along class or race lines; they have a sense of community that cares for each other. More so, they are not materially deprived either; they casually feast on copious amounts of decadent riches from their southern waters. Nor is it an utterly bleak place; they party, drink, and rejoice in celebration. The Bathtub is an imperfect utopia, where people simply exist, unhampered by the rules and norms of those on the other side of the levees.

For me, Beasts doesn’t glorify poverty or provide a sappy, “there-is-hope-in-decrepit-places” type message. It illustrates the possibilities of alternative ways of life, ways of being, that are complete and whole, though flawed, that don’t need to be saved or co-opted.

Written by Nesrien Hamid

 

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3 Comments

  • MsK says:

    I loved that movie and it doesn’t glorify poverty at all. It just shows how people in these tough and rough circumstances still create something that they call home and that they belong to. I was so impressed by the performance of Quvenzhane Wallis, too. Hope to see more of her on screen.

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