Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2012

There are some

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films which you watch, and know at once are brilliant. As the credits roll, your heart skips and you leave the cinema with a smile on your face, even though your heart has been plucked by an orchestra of emotions. Your head tilts back and, gazing at the starry sky, your feet wander without thought or common sense towards a pub, or watering hole, and find yourself, sat with friends who ask why you have such an inane grin on your face. Your reply: “I've just been to the cinema”. And then you are lost for words.

In the case of Beasts of the Southern Wild this loss of words isn't quite the result of the sublime, as being lost for words” is so often used when faced with a gargantuan effort of nature, but

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simply not knowing the words to say because you can't remember what happened. The film was an incredible testament to the pure perseverance of narrative over and above the cowardly limitations of “budget” or “realism” that hinders most films, a production effort of such magnitude in itself that the sublime description could be merited. But when I come to explain what happened – it all just falls apart.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2012

I've been spending the day trying to figure out how best to describe it – trying to imagine some concoction of Kevin Costner's Waterworld (through setting rather than tone) dashed with Spike Jonze's brilliant effort Where the Wild Things Are, and maybe a little sprinkling of the Shawshank Redemption – it's cultural sense of imprisonment – or even a pinch of Jurassic Park, throw into the pot. As is so often the case however, these descriptions are not only lazy, but become wholly inadequate for a film so intensely cinematic.

The canvas is a world built in the swamps of some American state, in which a community outside of society – refugees of culture who learn to survive and thrive in the harsh, but bounteous, conditions that nature provides – prepare for the oncoming floods sent by the rising tides of Global Warming. How this community begun, where and when it's based, and even how it sits thematically are difficult to pin down – or at least demand multiple viewings for clarity.

The central thread in a hypothethical post-apocalyptic future (after a Katrina-esque bout of extreme weather) is perhaps easier to fathom – the lives of those living in the Bathtub, the name of the island which is somewhere between a rich jungle and an episode of Scrapheap Challenge, is seen through the eyes of a young girl called “Hush Puppy”. With the naiive and beautiful logic of a child, she matures through her childhood without a mother, and with an alcoholic father who clearly loves her, but is unable to express this to her physically and looks on as her father, unable to cope with the burden and gravity of life as he finds

it, drinks, creating his own fantasy in which to reside. As a result, the bathtub becomes this inexplicable space that is never in question but ultimately never understood even by its protagonists. The beat of life, in the hearts of chests, the thunder of wild beasts and the weather that cruelly lashes at the community, run throughout the film, constantly expressing this bewildering mix of spiritual imagination, of The disposable-play slots, poker, blackjack, roulette along with other casino table games will operate via Facebook. the child as much as those around her, with a visible and tangible realism that renders the film's fantasy more than any expressive sense of illusion.

Ben Zeithlin's masterpiece is itself a story of community, with the production of the film so clearly made possible by the strength of its team than blistering vision of an individual, having to work with a startlingly small budget and the project growing within the Bayou community in which it is set. Alongside the production crew, the mesmerising soundtrack is well worth endorsing – an almost Beirutian composition by Dan Romer, with passionate string evoking an epic folk, even nautical, tradition – and punctuates drama brilliantly, while knowing full well when this world needs to be shown in silence. Within the outstanding cast itself however, it is the phenomenal performance of six year old Quvenzhané Wallis which staggers the most, and will surprise few if nominated for an Academy Award. But applause should never be pointed at one sole artist for this work, as it is clearly community that has driven its production – with even the Louisiana landscape improvising as part of the cast at times.

Beasts Of the Southern Wild, 2012

Writing about the film, with this slippery context of complexity, makes it feel almost dreamlike but this is only felt as I recount what happened – when sat in the cinema nothing is every confusing, or indistinguishable, and the world is performed with a semblance of documentary – it simply cannot lend itself well to my own written analysis. It might instead be considered a compelling illusion that deserves close attention, but does not permit itself to be victim to such rigour. It's brisk and swift. Concise and beautiful. Self-contained magic that foreshadows the fears of climate change. The world is so well defined and ultimately real, that you don't for a moment question the context or reality, one can only be immersed.

So having had a few hours to try and explain to my friends what I thought of the film, I've laid down my feelings in words, tried to match expression to emotion and am still utterly unconvinced by my own efforts. I don't think this review is even nearly legible, let alone critical enough, to make sense. But I do know the next time someone asks why I have such a grin on my face I will let them know as honestly as I can without spoiling anything else: “Just go and see that film”.


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