We watched The Beasts of the Southern Wilds this weekend, which is the tale of a six year old girl coming to terms with her father’s death. Hushpuppy, the narrator, lives with her father in the Bathtub, an area of land that is below the levee of an unspecified metropolis that closely translates into a post-Katrina New Orleans. The people of the Bathtub are the displaced and homeless and they’ve moved into the marshland and formed their own community. The culture is wild and joyful, with huge community parties and people of all races looking out for each other and sharing foods and resources. The message is clear; the Bathtub is utopia. The metropolis is not.
Aside from the unspecified danger of the metropolis, the biggest problem to Hushpuppy is her father’s health. This is where things get dire. Hushpuppy’s mother disappeared before the story began, leaving behind a trailer filled with clothes. Hushpuppy lives there on her own, while her imperfect father lives in another trailer in spitting distance. But her father disappears for a week and comes home in a hospital gown, which is the first time the viewer and Hushpuppy realize there’s something seriously wrong. He has periods of weakness and seems to be a man with a terminal heart condition. Angry at his own fate, he knows that he must leave her soon and he begins teaching Hushpuppy how to be self-sufficient. Hushpuppy burns down her trailer, fights with him and goes on a hunt for her mother.
Arching through the story is a metaphor that begins in the classroom, where Hushpuppy learns about the aurochs and misunderstands them to be large and dangerous beasts that died in the Ice Age. They become her metaphor for her father’s illness. They narrate her feelings and add to the fantastical quality of the world, but the world is already fantastical enough that they fit well within it.
Beasts of the Southern Wilds is what I like best in a movie; creative and well written. It also has some beautiful lines, excellent performances and stunning landscapes. There are moments of brilliant comedy and more than one line spoken from the mouth of a babe that rings so true that it made me shiver. It was originally a play called “Juicy and Delicious” by Lucy Alibar. I came away wanting more – I wanted to see the play. Definitely recommended.