Beasts of the Southern Wild (PG-13)
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This movie bears very little resemblance to what I was expecting. For one thing, I was expecting it to have more of a fantasy thing going on, even if I knew that fantasy would be interspersed with reality. But I cannot see the movie as fantastical at all. Yes, occasionally we see some preshistoric aurochs, in the visions of the main character, a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (who also narrates the film). But those visions are always very brief, and it is beyond my ability to equate them with anything that is actually going on in Hushpuppy's real life. The movie actually has more of a documentary vibe than a fantasy vibe, though it's also clearly a fictional drama. I wasn't quite sure where I'd end up putting my review. I was thinking maybe "coming of age," but I can't quite call it that, because I really didn't see any change in Hushpuppy at all, throughout the film. For awhile I was thinking I'd put it under "meh," but I'd feel bad about doing that, because I do recognize the film's quality. And certainly the young actress who portrays Hushpuppy does an excellent job. So instead, I put my review under "art." But there are plenty of movies that I recognize as being of far lesser quality that I actually enjoyed more than I did this. I feel like my rating is lower than the movie deserves, objectively, but also higher than would really be an honest reflection of my appreciation of it. The movie received mostly very positive reviews, and I don't think those reviews are wrong, but I can't say I really enjoyed the movie. And the back of the DVD case mentions magic, beauty, and pure joy. I perceived little if any joy or beauty, and no magic. I feel bad about that; I was really looking forward to watching the movie, and really wanted to like it. And I feel like if I can't perceive those qualities, then there must be something wrong with me. I did say I recognize the movie's quality (as an adjective), but no... none of those specific qualties (as nouns). To me, it was mostly just sad, but with a few moments that were mildly amusing, and even fewer moments that were genuinely touching. (Though such moments do exist.)
Anyway... it all takes place somewhere in Louisiana, in a community called "the Bathtub," which is just outside a levee. Hushpuppy lives with her father, who is apparently called Wink, though I never heard that in the movie. Wink is obviously sick... some of the time he is briefly incapacitated, though most of the time he acts as if he's healthy. As for the way he goes about raising Hushpuppy, it's hard for me to get a handle on it. I do think he definitely cares about her, and he does the best he can. And sometimes I feel like Hushpuppy misinterprets his actions or motivations. But there are also plenty of times I think he's doing a really bad job as a father.
After awhile, it becomes known that a storm is coming, so some people leave the Bathtub to get to safety, while others remain behind. Wink is the most adamant about never leaving his home, and clearly Hushpuppy agrees with that. There will later come a time that the authorities show up to enforce a mandatory evacuation, a couple weeks or so after the storm had left the Bathtub flooded, and the trees and animals all started dying. Wink and all the others who remained fought against being taken away. And that's the thing I really can't wrap my head around. I feel like we're meant to empathize with their desire to stay, maybe even see the authorities as the bad guys (or maybe not). But, while I don't think they should be forced to be evacuated, I do think that unless they are certifiably insane, they have to realize that they are choosing death. (Choosing death, in itself, I would not necessarily consider insane, or even stupid, but I do think it's a shame.) They all- especially Wink- just seem to have a stubborn sense of pride that is entirely unreasonable, which makes it impossible for me to empathize with them to any significant degree. (And, man, I am perfectly capable of being unreasonable about some things, but treating people who are trying to save your life as if they are the enemy is a bit much, even for me. I mean, except in my suicidal moments. But even then I'd recognize that people mean well, which is not something I ever thought the characters in this movie recognized.)
So... I think the movie is well-made, and I do perceive a kind of dignity in it. But mostly I just see it as needlessly tragic. There is no adventure. There is no fun. There is no real fantasy. There is no real hope. It's just a bunch of people leading random, tragic lives that they have chosen for themselves. Is it within their power to live in anything other than poverty? Maybe, maybe not, I don't really know. But is it possible for them to live at least somewhat less tragic lives? Yes. Unarguably, yes. They simply seem to have no desire to do so. And I am not capable of understanding it, as much as I might want to. I mean, clearly they had their fun before the storm hit. Clearly they have reason to enjoy their way of life. But once it becomes absolutely untenable for that lifestyle to continue, once the choice of living in the Bathtub changes from happy simplicity and a tolerable level of poverty to abject squallor and almost certain death... yeah, that choice has changed from questionable to insane.