The otherworldly beauty of “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

August 14, 2012

ImageA delirious wash of eerie fantasy, hard reality and curious notions, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is one of the most engaging and vital movies of the year.

The film begins and ends in the remote bayou community known as the Bathtub. Isolated from the mainland by levees, it’s an island of lush decay populated by the desperately poor. These people don’t act desperate, though. In the opening scenes, we see the denizens of the Bathtub whooping it up in one of their regular bacchanals. Music blares, booze flows and fireworks flash.

“The Bathtub has more holidays than the whole rest of the world,” says Hushpuppy, our heroine and narrator, played in a startling performance by six-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis. Hushpuppy lives in a dilapidated trailer with her drunken father, Wink (Dwight Henry) and a filthy menagerie of pigs, dogs and chickens.

Hushpuppy has a fierce imagination, and communes daily with the animals and earth around her. Pressing her ear to the ground, she can hear a great distant rumbling. Images of glacial collapse flash by; mammoth chunks of ice shearing off and falling into the ocean.

As the film moves forward, we’re transported into Hushpuppy’s world and the story shifts into the realm of magic realism. Director Benh Zeitlin keeps his camera hovering low, just at Hushpuppy’s height, and we live behind her eyes.

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