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8/6/2012 9:01:00 AM
MOVIE REVIEW: Beasts of the Southern Wild a post-Katrina survival
Fox SearchlightQuvenzhané Wallis, a nonprofessional actress, stars in Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Fox Searchlight

Quvenzhané Wallis, a nonprofessional actress, stars in Beasts of the Southern Wild.

David Kanowsky
Kudos Movie Critic, The Movie Man

The Southern Wild of Beasts of the Southern Wild refers to a water bound area that is part of New Orleans. It lies outside the levee that protects the city from a Katrina sequel.

The location's name is The Bathtub. The folks who live there are descendants of generations of inhabitants who lived there. Poverty, squalor, meager food and tumble-down shacks are the norm in The Bathtub.

The central character in Beasts of the Southern Wild is a 6 year old girl, Hushpuppy, who lives with her father, Wink. The mother is gone. The entire story is shown through the eyes, the mind and the imagination of Hushpuppy. She and her father live among other families, equally poor and squalid. There is a schoolteacher who brings some rudimentary education to the few kids in the area.

The Bathtub is a world unto itself. To Hushpuppy it is her home, the world and the total universe. She is actually quite eloquent in describing her life to us. Her life is not simple. Wink is a heavy drinker, as are all the denizens of The Bathtub, and he suffers from seriously failing health. But he never relaxes in his machismo attitude. He loves Hushpuppy but is often stern and even cruel to her. She is devoted to her Dad despite his erratic behavior.

Wink and Hushpuppy live mostly on chickens and anything they can catch. They trawl with their hands for catfish in a bizarre home-made boat that Wink constructed. A severe storm comes and virtually wipes out The Bathtub. The residents come together to try to reconstruct as much of the homes as they can. The flood waters from the storm do not recede quickly and it is tough for them to live in the deep water. Wink and two other men decide to use dynamite to blow an opening in the New Orleans levee to relieve their flood. While in view of the city of New Orleans, Hushpuppy exclaims, "Isn't that an ugly sight?"

Hushpuppy keeps conversing with her lost mother and is always looking for her out in the vast bayou. Besides fantasizing about her mother, Hushpuppy has visions of polar glaciers collapsing and exposing frozen aurochs - extinct huge long-horned wild oxen - who show up at The Bathtub. These are the Beasts of the film's title. They are frightful and destructive but Hushpuppy is able to stare them down and they withdraw.

It's symbolic of the great inner strength and self reliance she displays including her ability to hold her relationship with Wink and her expressiveness to everybody around her and to us. In a sense, the Beasts may also include the residents of The Bathtub; their search for food and safety occupies their lives completely.

The cinematography in Beasts of the Southern Wild is extraordinary in how it places us in that colorful but dismal locale, The Bathtub.

The young miss who plays Hushpuppy, is a nonprofessional named Quvenzhané Wallis. She is endearing and very convincing in the role. Dwight Henry, also a nonprofessional is excellent as the father, Wink.

Beasts of the Southern Wild resembles the fine film Winter's Bone (2010) in that the people involved are not better off than before the story, but they are satisfied and happy to be back to their usual lifestyle once the crises have been overcome.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is at Harkins Sedona 6 Theater.

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