Hushpuppy’s World: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a mysterious story told and filmed from a child’s point of view.  It occurs in a liminal space, a wild landscape that does not follow the laws of reason or the social order.  Somewhere between the truth and perception, between dry land and the sea, and away from the constraints of normalized civilization is a community of intensely proud outsiders called The Bathtub.  It exists in a realm south of New Orleans, a region below the levees and just beyond the law.  There, life is dependent upon the land— its bounty and its punishment.  Hushpuppy is a six year-old girl-child without a mother, whose father, Wink, must imprint with the legend of their history while teaching her the tricks of endurance.  While the population of The Bathtub is already perched on the boundary of existence—into their daily life comes an apocalyptic Katrina-like storm with an after effect of Biblical proportion.  In addition, Hushpuppy is a visionary.  She tells us, “When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces.”

Hushpuppy shows us her cosmos: the real world around her and a dream world where animals speak to her, her mother appears as a light in the distance, and an interracial community keeps itself going to become a family.  “I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right.”  BSW shows us the universe is connected: ice caps melt to reveal the mythical beasts who come to destroy her world through rain and flood, and when Hushpuppy tells her father in a childish rage that she will eat birthday cake on his grave, her words literally strike him to the ground.  The physical world of The Bathtub is unforgiving and unkind— but it is steeped in poetry and grounded in reality.  Floods recede to leave death and hunger.  Miss Bathsheba, the teacher, tells her class at the beginning of the film, “We are all meat.”  And BSW proceeds to prove her right, food is caught and dismembered, flesh rots and dies, and joy is large and passionate.  Miss Bathsheba, however, also teaches gris gris and kindness.  And best of all, the women of The Bathtub grow up strong and fierce and sure.

BSW is by all means an independent film, you have to ride the narrative flow and trust in its process.  The cinematography is lush and magical, the stars are untrained and phenomenal, and the plot is full of leaps and surprises.  These characters radiate a kind of dignity and pride that is wholly Southern and fully realized by regional actors.  Survivors of Katrina are believable as survivors, and their experience informs the film.  Yet this is a narrative where girls swim out to sea to find their mothers as sirens in a down and out juke joint in the ocean called Elysian Fields, and also learn to catch fish with their hands to subsist.  BSW is a peculiar collage where all the pieces ultimately fit together to construct Hushpuppy’s world.  And what an amazing world it is.

For a brief moment these individuals are tamed, but ultimately they return home to a place with “more holidays than the whole rest of the world.”  Determined, proud, and free, they are closer to the origin of the world than most of us.  Hushpuppy’s father Wink states that while they are struggling to find food, the people beyond the levee are shopping in markets, not out in their own backyards.  Our sense of their poverty is staggering.  But this is a rag-tag group who remember what the rest beyond the levee have forgotten:  what connects us is both mystery and sinew, a thing that rises above the flood and lives beyond adversity to become the truth, the fabric of our memory, and finally, legend.  Hushpuppy knows the most important thing is to be recognized after we have gone, and to be remembered.  That who we are and what we become is part of the larger universe.

4 Comments on “Hushpuppy’s World: Beasts of the Southern Wild”

  1. kddove says:

    w. o. w.
    i must see this again.

  2. David says:

    would you take a 6 year old to see it?

    • I don’t think so… There are some pretty graphic images and tough subjects. More along the lines of the flood’s aftermath and some of the issues Hushpuppy must deal with. It’s a wonderful film though.

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