“Beasts of the Southern Wild”

“I’m recordin’ my story for the scientists of the future. In a million years, when kids go to school, they gunna know; once there was a Hushpuppy and she lived with her Daddy in the Bathtub.” – Hushpuppy

Although they are labeled reviews, these writings on films I’ve seen will likely be anything but.  I’d like to use them as discussion points to pull out observations and thoughts, and they will likely stray from the basics of the film I’ve watched.   Over the weekend (September 8, 2012)  I went to the film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” at the Regina Public Library Theatre.  It’s a potent film and I left it not really sure how to pull together my thoughts about it. I originally planned to use the above quote in an essay I wrote entitled Diorama: Mediating Museum and Cinema.  The idea in the essay was to compare the structure of the museum diorama to the exhibition of cinema in a gallery or museum.  In many ways, the diorama creates an immersive story in the same way as cinema.  Objects are displayed in their niches, and surrounded with spectacle to help build context around them.  Like a fictional film, the objects can’t speak for themselves and tell the whole truth about their existence, so we need to build a story to help audiences engage and understand better.  We need to create a fantasy to help us understand the truth of the object or artwork.

Still from Beasts of the Southern Wild

Hushpuppy’s journey is Homer’s Odyssey.  It’s fantastical and heroic, and uses metaphors to teach us about worldly experiences.  Since Hushpuppy’s life is so disconnected from our reality, we can’t really learn practical lessons from her literal narrative.  However, she lives a romantic fantasy that many people have about creating their own world, outside of societal regulation, and she displays a strength against adversity that most of us can only dream about.  It’s not that we want to face these problems, but knowing that you could do it is powerful, and watching this small child stand up against the world is conflicting.  On one hand, we’re proud of her success, and on the other, horrified that she would have to deal with things that most adults don’t have to.  Through Hushpuppy, we experience a playful and lighthearted version of deep trauma – perhaps made easier to deal with through fantasy. I kept expecting the film to feel colonial in some ways.  A filmmaker coming into a community to tell their story without living their lives is a difficult thing to get past, and it’s incredibly easy to have the narrative cross the line into being sentimental or preachy.  However, there were never any points where I felt like an outsider was telling this story.  Possibly it lies in that the film never felt like a realistic depiction of a situation.  The fantastical elements helped to pull the audience into a world that was similar, but totally different than our own.  Also, not showing any of the urban settings likely helped to keep us from comparing our situation to the that of the Bathtub.  I believe the filmmaker also cast non-actor residents of the area, and worked with them to build the sets, so perhaps that helped it to develop organically. It’s interesting as well, that instead of depicting their poverty as a struggle, this film showed the residents of the Bathtub as perfectly happy in their situation.  They weren’t worried that they didn’t have fridges or televisions, they just wanted to continue their lives.  The film represented a choice to live as part of nature and in harmony with the surroundings, more than something that was forced on them by lack.  I guess this also works well as part of the fantasy, since more and more we’re seeing urban citizens seeking a return to nature and the natural.  This desire to return to nature is  as much a fantasy as Hushpuppy’s aurochs. The reality would not be lush and filled with playful stories and sparkling fireworks.  It would be hard and likely uncomfortable.  It’s always much more romantic when you’re not actually drenched to the skin, eaten alive by mosquitoes and suffering excruciating blood-poisoning, and when you can turn to the temperature controlled interior of a move theatre to supplement your fantasies. As much as it sounds negative, I do think that the role of fantasy is incredibly important and well executed in this film.  We all need to build up stories to help us cope with reality, whether it’s imaginary friends, religion or spirituality, philosophy, planning future goals, nostalgia or creating art. Just because your way of dreaming is different than mine, doesn’t lessen the value of either of our methods.  Dreaming helps take the edge off the harshness of life, and separates us from the violence and harshness of the natural world.  Nature doesn’t dream, it just is.  Our dreams help to give it a structure and purpose and comfort us on the dark nights of trauma when it is much more difficult to see the purpose in the every-day.

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