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Remarkable acting in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’

Courtney Cox | Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Each year one indie darling film storms into the national conversation following the announcement of the Academy Award nominees. Sometimes it’s well deserved, other times it’s a bit of a stretch. This year’s choice low-budget beauty is “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” 

Narrated through the voice of Hushpuppy, a five-year-old girl being raised by her single father, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” tells the story of a secluded, loosely organized community just beyond the levees of the Louisiana Bayou called the “Bathtub.”

Hushpuppy is independent out of necessity. Her father lives in one trailer-style home while she lives on another a few yards away.

He calls her for dinner every night but isn’t necessarily the most nurturing of parents. One night he isn’t there to feed her, so she finds a way to feed herself but starts a major fire that burns down her entire trailer. It forces the two of them to live together under the same roof and yet they don’t necessarily grow closer together. 

Perhaps one of the most puzzling parts of the film is whether Hushpuppy’s father, Wink, is a good father or a cruel man. He yells a lot. He doesn’t baby Hushpuppy in a way that most people would treat a five-year-old girl. At the same time maybe that truly isn’t necessary. 

Maybe what he needs to do is instill strength in her so that she can take care of herself one day. In a lot of ways, he does his best to prepare her for the troubles of the real world. 

One of the most touching moments of the whole film is when Wink and Hushpuppy are floating down the river on a raft and Wink teaches her how to catch a catfish with her bare hands. It’s a small thing that indicates that he truly does love her and while he may make her do some uncomfortable things it’s all in her best interest. 

The critical moment of the film comes when a hurricane hits the coast of Louisiana. It completely floods the “Bathtub” but the levees have protected the rest of the state from being affected. 

The salt eats away at the earth beneath the massive flood and kills all of the wildlife that sustained this ragtag bunch of “Bathtub” residents for years. It devastated their community but they band together and commit to powering through. 

Despite all their loss, everyone in the “Bathtub” has the same mentality that they are never to cry over their misfortune. They celebrate the life they have and drink heavily, eat seafood and strengthen the bond that keeps them living in such a unique environment. 

Living in abject poverty has never looked so good. They genuinely seem like a happy group of people despite living outside conventional norms of social acceptability. 

At one point they are taken away from their homes by social workers and brought into a clinic. The stark contrast between the natural environment of the “Bathtub” and the bright lights and sterile environment of the clinic is jarring and upsetting in many ways. 

One cannot discuss the movie as a whole, however, without acknowledging the stunning performance of newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis as Hushpuppy. Her expressive face is so beautiful and painful to watch as she endures a complete shakeup in everything she’s ever known. 

The narration she gives guides the film in the most beautifully quiet way and it’s a remarkable accomplishment for such a young actress. She deserves all the praise she has been receiving since her nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. 

All in all, the film was a great testament to this small imaginary community just beyond the boundary of society. 

Contact Courtney Cox at ccox3@nd.edu