Beasts of the Southern Wild

No One Leaves the Bathtub


06 July 2012| No Comments on Beasts of the Southern Wild     by Sean Chavel


Modern ecology is made to look like science-fiction to what amounts to woozy visual poetry. In Beasts of the Southern Wild, a 6-year old wunderkind actress named Quvenzhane Wallis as the protagonist Hushpuppy, is a motherless but self-sufficient girl who lives in the Louisiana basins. Somewhere off in the world, the children of this destitute community comprehend that the arctic ice caps are melting, and sometime or another, their little world is going to flood. From their little island, they can see the levees with factories spitting out smokestack pollutants on the other side.

When one thinks of modern America, the immediate image is prosperity, but “Southern Wild,” brings upon us another reality of rural Lousiana where the poorest of the poor exist without money or food stamps, getting by on primeval means. They call their desolate island the “Bathtub,” just off of Louisiana’s levees, whose destruction was made infamous by Hurricane Katrina. Yes, you think, it’s possible for indigenous people – even in small numbers – to live on America’s outskirts.

Hushpuppy is believably self-sufficient, practically a virtuoso in her ability to feed and care for herself. Most of us have never endured the same hardship that she has because from day one the majority of us are coddled and thrown into rubberized jungle-gyms. From day one, Hushpuppy adapted within the most primitive conditions. The father Wink (Dwight Henry) muses wisdom, offers practical instruction, and goads Hushpuppy to fend for herself – here is a girl that doesn’t cry over bruises.

Aesthetically, it is after a dreamy quality. The camera swerves a lot, though it pauses for impressionistic imagery that surveys eco-disaster, boating through wild bayous, running alongside firecrackers, encounters with wild aurochs and omens of the apocalypse. The images are of uncultivated grain for that naturalism documentary effect.

The big flood happens, and while timid America struggles to deal with it, these resilient characters adapt just fine (the back of a pickup truck has been converted into a powerboat). Authorities with badges raid the swamps and force Wink and the other residents into a convalescent facility. “It was supposed to be a prison, but it was more like a fish tank with no water,” Hushpuppy says in voice-over, in response to her new numbing surroundings.

You might question as to whether Hushpuppy is really talking to her father in their final scenes together. Hushpuppy just needs validation from her father, I believe, and to let him know she is strong enough to survive solo. For god’s sake, if she can stand up against wildebeest-aurochs, in fantasy or reality, she can muster anything.

Although he only has some short subjects behind him, Benh Zeitllin in his feature debut conjures up powerful visuals and elicits an astonishing performance by the young raw and untrained Wallis. If I’m not quite in complete ecstasy over it, that’s because I’ve become more attuned to confidently crafted pictures. Sarah Polley’s “Take this Waltz,” for instance, which achieves its’ visual bravado with radiant colors and definitive, compact framing. “Southern Wild” is perhaps too grainy, too jerky, but still – this is high imaginative work with at least a texture that is hypnotic.

91 Minutes. Rated PG-13.


Film Cousins: “Days of Heaven” (1978); “Shy People” (1987); “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006); “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” (2006).

Official movie website: click here.


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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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