Confronting the Beasts in Life: An Observation on “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

BOtsw poster

The film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, was directed by Benh Zeitlin and written by Benh and Lucy Alibar

During the movie awards season, I try to catch as many of the nominated films as time will let me.  There are many that I am excited and determined to see.  But some really don’t interest me…but I see them to at least form an opinion. 

I was like that with Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Even though the film was getting good reviews, especially for the young female star, I couldn’t really wrap my brain around the story line.  I kept reading about it being the story of Hushpuppy and her life in the Bathtub.  But that didn’t tell me much.  And the trailer for the movie just looked very primitive and weird.

But yesterday, I rented it from Netflix.  And I’m glad I did.  Actually, I’ve now watched it twice.  Since it’s a fantasy with amazing visuals and unique dialogue, it was challenging to grasp at first.  But as it ended, and I thought about the film, and watched it again, I finally was able to see a rich, moving and thought-provoking film.

Wick and Hushpuppy (portrayed by Dwight Henry and Quvenzhane Wallis)

Wink and Hushpuppy (portrayed by Dwight Henry and Quvenzhane Wallis)

There are so many stories in this film…

  • It’s the story of a resilient people, living very primitively, separated from the rest of the world.  But they find joy in their everyday existence.
  • It’s a story of nature, both animal and human.  And what both do to survive.
  • It’s the story of a man…alcoholic, abusive and chronically ill, who is trying to survive…and teach his 5-year-old to do so herself.  Though his abusive approach to discipline and teach Hushpuppy cannot be minimized, Wink (portrayed by Dwight Henry) is trying his best in a difficult situation – being both a father and mother to an extraordinary little girl under challenging circumstances.

2012_beasts_of_the_southern_wildBut this is really Hushpuppy’s story.  And as portrayed by young 6-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, she is a little girl, still childlike in her ways but wise beyond her years.  She begins the film as a young inquisitive girl but ends up closing the film with a formidable strength and age-old wisdom.  She narrates the film, sharing her thoughts on nature and the impact she will make up on this earth.  And along the way, she clings to her father, who represents home and all she knows to be true.  But she also seeks to connect with her mother, one that she’s never seen, but she uses an old  T-shirt to represent her ghost.

There’s one part of the story that really stuck with me.  The bayou people revel in their lifestyle but there’s always a fear looming behind them.  It comes in the form of everyday survival and impending storms…it comes in the form of authority figures trying to take them away from what some would consider squalor.  But in this fantasy world, there’s also the threat of the aurochs.  Prehistoric creatures, now frozen in ice caps, they will be released as the world of nature begins to unravel.  Throughout the movie, we see the aurochs  at first, frozen in time.  But as the movie progresses, they are set free and begin to make their way to the bayou.

In a pivotal scene towards the end of the film, as Hushpuppy’s world begins to unravel, she realizes the aurochs are close behind her, following her.  When the other children run quickly to safety, she continues to keep her pace, refusing to run.  And finally, when she realizes they are close on her heels, she literally turns around to confront the beasts.  She does not flinch or move.  Her determination to survive, her inner strength and her courage all come together.  She’s not afraid because she is now in control.

Beasts of the Southern Wild - 6

There are many of us being followed by beasts.  They are not huge furry aurochs.  They are overwhelming addictions, they are all-consuming stresses, they are deeply hidden secrets…and like Hushpuppy, we cannot run from them.  We must face them head on.  We must challenge them and take back our control.

Books, movies, songs…they all have a way of entertaining us.  But they also have the capacity to reflect our own lives.  They have the capacity to shine a light on the truth.  And to show us life through the eyes of wisdom.

When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me lying around in invisible pieces. When I look too hard, it goes away. And when it all goes quiet, I see they are right here. I see that I’m a little piece in a big, big universe. And that makes things right. When I die, the scientists of the future, they’re gonna find it all. They gonna know, once there was a Hushpuppy, and she live with her daddy in the Bathtub.                                                                                   quote from Hushpuppy


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