Beasts of the Southern Wild
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Somewhere beyond Hollywood’s superhero fantasies and crude comedies, there’s a completely different world—a quieter, simpler world that nevertheless faces its own unique kind of action and adventure. That’s the world of director Behn Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Precocious six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives with her volatile father, Wink (Dwight Henry), in a place called the Bathtub—a remote community that’s constantly under the threat of flooding. When a storm comes through and floods the area, some of the residents pack up their lives and leave, while the remaining members of the community join together in their fight for survival. But as Wink begins to succumb to a mysterious illness, Hushpuppy must learn to fend for herself.

Beasts of the Southern Wild isn’t the typical Hollywood picture about the problems facing the country’s rich and powerful. It isn’t about superheroes or soldiers or crooked Wall Street billionaires. Instead, it explores a poorer, plainer way of life—in a place where the problems that arise are often life-threatening but the people still manage to take it all in stride, taking the time to appreciate the little things.

The residents of the Bathtub don’t gather at the local country club. They don’t have fancy dinners at the latest, trendiest hotspots. In fact, they’d see country clubs and fancy restaurants as all kinds of craziness. Instead, they catch catfish with their bare hands and gather together in a rundown shack to enjoy the day’s catch with their friends and neighbors. And instead of worrying about what they don’t have, they celebrate what they do.

The characters found in Beasts of the Southern Wild may not be the usual big-screen heroes, but they’re remarkably tough and resilient. They’re loyal and supportive. And they have a sense of community that the rest of us can’t even imagine. Even adorable little Hushpuppy, who lives mostly by herself in a dilapidated trailer in the middle of nowhere, is tougher and more determined than the average movie hero. She’s sweet and innocent yet bayou-smart—and she has a unique perspective on the world around her. Like Jennifer Lawrence’s Ree Dolly in 2010’s Winter’s Bone, she has wisdom and strength that go well beyond her years.

Beasts of the Southern Wild paints a fascinating picture of Hushpuppy’s world—and it generally does so honestly, without romanticizing the characters or their way of life. It simply depicts a slice of the characters’ reality. At times, however, it veers slightly off-track, making hazy references to polar ice caps and prehistoric beasts. These moments take an otherwise accessible and straightforward drama about a way of life that’s rarely portrayed on screen and flood it in murky allusions that might leave many viewers scratching their heads. So while it’s worth visiting the Bathtub—and getting to know its strong-willed little heroine—be warned that, like its setting, the story is an unconventional one.

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