The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

One more to be enchanted by Hushpuppy

with 18 comments

beastin' on crab - _DSC8525.NEF

All the time, everywhere, everything’s hearts are beating and squirting, and talking to each other the ways I can’t understand. Most of the time they probably be saying: I’m hungry, or I gotta poop.”

[listening to bird’s heartbeat]

But sometimes they be talkin’ in codes.”

Those words from Hushpuppy in the beginning of Beasts of the Southern Wild was all it took to win me over.

The combination was irresistible. First we had this young girl, the force of nature, making my childhood hero Pippi Longstocking appear pale in comparison. Then we had the camera, which in an inexplicable way turns what I’d consider a horrible piece of junk land – a swamp full of trash – into something that would qualify for National Geographic: an endangered biotope that should be protected. And then there was this voiceover: poetic, cute and insightful in equal measures.

So what if six year olds don’t speak that way, don’t come up with such words of wisdom? You don’t see giant boar from the ice age roaming around either. I wanted to stay in this world of magic, following Hushpuppy as she explored it and found ways to survive under circumstances where I wouldn’t last a minute.

Beasts of the Southern Wild takes place in a place called Bathtub, a delta in the south, where a little group of people live in extreme poverty. It’s not an environment where I’d like any child to grow up, obviously neglected and forced to take a far greater responsibility that she should have to. But somehow Hushpuppy gets by, thanks to her seemingly unbreakable fighting spirit and an ability to slip into her own realm of imagination when the reality gets too hard to comprehend or handle. Things go from bad to worse as the delta is run over by flood of apocalyptic dimensions, while Hushpuppy’s father turns ill.

Idealizing poverty?
I won’t be wordy about this film, since it’s been written about so much already that it runs the risk to be hugged to death. There are a few critical voices though, and I want to address one of the objections I’ve heard: that it idealizes poverty, providing a dated view on the “happy savage”.

While I can understand this point of view, I don’t share it.  There’s never any doubt about that the lifestyle in the swamp isn’t sustainable either for the people or the environment and the fact that Hushpuppy’s father is a drunkard who beats her isn’t shrugged away easily. The fact that those people still manage to find some love and laughter and enjoyment in their life says something about the human spirit rather than suggesting that everyone would be better off living in shacks eating dog food.

If I would remark on something, it’s rather that it’s a little bit eventless. On the other hand: if I’m completely honest I thought the film was at its best when we saw Hushpuppy strolling around, talking to the animals, cooking or having arguments with her father, occasionally interrupted by cleaver statements. The “story” felt less significant.

Eventless or not, Beasts of the Southern Wild had my full attention to the very end and the spirit of it comes back to me if I close my eyes. I can’t put my finger on what it is that it conveys, but I think it’s something about what it means to be alive and to be a part of the world.

To paraphrase one of the voiceovers:

When it all goes quiet I see Hushpuppy right here. I see that like her I’m a little piece in a big, big universe. And that makes things right.

 Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin US 2012) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

January 28, 2013 at 1:00 am

18 Responses

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  1. I am so annoyed at myself that I *still* haven’t seen this film! It’s out on DVD here now, and I still havent gotten around to it. The vast majority of the reviews have been so positive 🙂 You make it sound very beautiful.


    January 28, 2013 at 9:22 am

    • Thanks Ruth! I think you should see it. As opposed to many of the other award season movies,it’s fairly short at 1 hr 30 minutes. And yet it leaves quite an impression


      January 28, 2013 at 7:58 pm

  2. I saw it but I don’t share my complete enjoyment towards the movie, though, 3/5 being my rating probably comes down to personal preferences. But I do think the script and the voice overs were very good.


    January 28, 2013 at 10:44 am

    • Well at least you got something from it. I think it’s not for everyone. Two of my Swedish blogging buddies watched it at a film festival and gave it a 2/5.


      January 28, 2013 at 7:56 pm

  3. Great review!
    It’s so annoying that every single film that takes place in a poor environment but still isn’t utterly depressing, is said to be idealizing poverty. Just give me a break.


    January 28, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    • Thank you mette! Yeah, I don’t see what kind of movie you should make to please those who criticize it for this. If you only make people miserable, that’s not really good either, making them look dependent and incapable, at the mercy of the priviliged. I guess there’s no way to get it “right” in everybodys eyes.


      January 28, 2013 at 7:50 pm

  4. Love, love, loved this movie Jessica. From all that I’ve seen from 2012, this is still my favourite. I was completely swept away (excuse the pun) by young Hushpuppy an her adventures. Such an uplifting little tale and a marvellous central performance from young Wallis.

    Mark Walker

    January 28, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    • Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm Mark! Perhaps I was a little bit cheap just giving it a 4/5 rating. It might very well grow even more in appreciation over time.We’ll see when it’s time to make the 2013 top list in almost a year.


      January 28, 2013 at 7:47 pm

      • I did think it lost it’s way a little but redeemed itself enough to earn top marks from me. A genuine surprise and a great treat.

        Mark Walker

        January 28, 2013 at 8:20 pm

  5. Great post, Jess. I just saw this on Saturday and liked it a lot. I too was enchanted by Hushpuppy, but more for the way she was written, her insightful voiceovers and less from Wallis’s performance. I thought she was good but not Oscar-worthy, if I’m being honest.


    January 29, 2013 at 8:54 am

    • I think it’s a little hard to judge the performance of such a young actor. Is she acting or is she just herself? And that does make a difference? But yeah, in the case of the Oscars I’ve got a different favorite: Emmanuelle Riva from Amour.


      January 30, 2013 at 6:44 pm

      • I agree. It’s very hard to know exactly. So far, my favorite is Jennifer Lawrence but I’ve yet to see Riva and Chastain, so my opinion could very well change.


        January 30, 2013 at 9:22 pm

  6. I agree that Hushpuppy’s character, and the way she saw the world, was the highlight of the movie. The plot is secondary. I don’t think this film idealizes poverty at all. We see filth and squalor, and we see that their lives are hard. But we also see beauty and freedom in their lives. That’s one of the things I liked best about the movie. It made us look at the situation and setting in a slightly different way.


    January 30, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    • Exactly my view! It’s so well balanced. The poor people aren’t idealized, but they’ve got dignity.


      January 30, 2013 at 7:39 pm

  7. I’ve seen it two weeks ago and I enjoyed it. Still, it didn’t reach the very high expectations I had for it.


    February 1, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    • I can see that. It’s unfortantely a movie that has been a little bit oversold. Often happens to Oscar candidates…


      February 3, 2013 at 8:53 pm

  8. […] One more to be enchanted by Hushpuppy […]

  9. […] Beasts of the Southern Wild The story of Hushpuppy – my hero! […]

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