Review of Oscar Nominated ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ A Benh Zeitlin Film Starring Quvenzane Wallis and Dwight Henry (also includes a criticism of Cole Smithey’s review of the film)

Grade: A

Summary: You are amazed by how Quvenzane, a six year old understood her character and the film’s message better than Cole Smithey, the self-proclaimed ‘smartest film critic in the world’. The film captures a community’s unyielding spirit of self-sustaining survival that needs more heart than sense to empathize with.

Here’s a link to Cole Smithey’s scathing review:

Cole Smithey can freely proclaim himself to be the ‘smartest film critic in the world’, but he has surely got ‘The Beasts of the Southern Wild’ review entirely wrong. He seems to watch it from the point of view of a pragmatist, a surgeon, a social worker, a rescue volunteer, a cynic; he criticizes the relationship between Hushpuppy, the six-year old kid and her father Wink, calling it abusive. He also condemns the film’s ‘message’ that a kid will be more responsible only when she faces life-threatening situations. He doesn’t realize that Hushpuppy’s journey is a ‘way of life’ for her and her people. To him, Hushpuppy’s father is an abusive man who shouldn’t be allowed to rear a child, and maybe he awaited a moment where Hushpuppy would ‘run away’ from her father and ‘gain freedom’. Smithey wrote his review with a narrow-minded outlook – the ‘it’s not right because it didn’t happen the way I wanted it to’ view. He doesn’t look from the viewpoint of the Bathtub community where Hushpuppy and her father belong, but as an outsider who just assumes them to be a bunch of unlettered idiots who reject any outside help or guidance. Maybe Mr. Smithey should visit the Sentinelese tribe once and ask them to cooperate.

Beasts of the Southern Wild does not look at the practicality of the situation; if you look at it that way, you’ll think that the Bathtub community did a mistake by acting uncooperative and hostile with the rescue workers and doctors who try helping them after the community’s houses gets ravaged by a violent storm. What it wants you to see is the togetherness of the community, whose members are like an extended family of both blacks and whites. How can an educated be so ignorant that he misses the entire point of the film which states its point so lucidly and unassumingly? You don’t go to Beasts of the Southern Wild and watch it with your own prejudices on what is right and what’s not: you go and watch it to understand these people, how their mind works and how their heart beats. That’s when you’ll get something out of it.

Hushpuppy, the tiny but tough girl with an indomitable spirit lives with her reckless but hardly abusive father Wink (two very uncommon names and no, they’re not nicknames) in a cluttered shack; both father and daughter have delimited their spaces, and Hushpuppy spends most of her day with her pets. It’s not really a healthy relationship but that doesn’t mean it remains the same throughout. As their secluded community is impacted by a storm, Hushpuppy and her father act more protective of and close to one other, with the latter teaching his daughter how to weather the unfavorable conditions by staying strong (by ‘beasting’ the crab i.e. smash it open and suck out the juice, and catching fish with bare hands) while the former proving her mettle by braving the winds and overcoming the adversities.

Hushpuppy has a very deep understanding of the world for her age, and if she were a real person, she’d probably be the female counterpart of Obama when she’d grow up. Most of what you hear from her is spoken through narration, and Quvenzane Wallis, the girl playing her sounds miraculously sincere with not one false note ringing from her (only a deadly scream!). It’s as if she understood clearly what her character was thinking, and how this little kid could understand Hushpuppy so completely is astonishing. The man who plays her dad is Dwight Henry, a baker turned actor who also interprets his character perfectly; a tad harsher and we wouldn’t have sympathized with his Wink. Wait for their poignant final scene together: it defines brilliant and natural acting. But what’s even more impressive is how the ensemble, a raggedly motley of  white trash and black families acts like they’ve known each other for years.

Benh Zeitlin, the film’s director opted shooting the film on 16mm with crude cuts (instead of 35mm used today) and so you shouldn’t expect polished filmmaking; but the roughness is what makes the film even better. You may find some things to be unappetizing, like a shot of a dead animal’s intestines, or raw flesh being eaten by the characters or a fish being clobbered. But all this ‘shoddiness’ and ‘dirtiness’ define the environment in and circumstances under which the film’s characters live. The magic realism in the film isn’t as expansive and satisfactory as it is in Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi’, but one should know that while Life of Pi was based on a Booker Prize winning novel, Beasts has been adapted from Lucy Aliber’s less-known one-act play. And to bring this play to screen in his debut attempt, that too with a cast of mostly inexperienced actors, Benh Zeitlin is THE man, or still better, ‘DA BEAST’!

One thought on “Review of Oscar Nominated ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ A Benh Zeitlin Film Starring Quvenzane Wallis and Dwight Henry (also includes a criticism of Cole Smithey’s review of the film)

  1. Pingback: My Choice for Best Director Oscar 2013 (Having Seen & Reviewed All 5 Films) : Michael Haneke For Amour | Film Louvre

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