Movie Review: Weighing the Ambitious Beasts of the Southern Wild

The motherless six-year-old called Hushpuppy (Quevenzhane Wallis) who narrates Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild spends a lot of time thinking about how future civilizations will look back on her and the hardscrabble underclass denizens of the marshy Louisiana lowland called the Bathtub. She says, "In a million years, when kids go to school, they’re gonna know: Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub." That’s a lot of confidence for one so young, but she is, after all, the alter-ego of her 29-year-old director, the son of two folklorists who moved (with friends from Wesleyan College) to New Orleans to take his family business to the next level. Zeitlin swings at the moon in his first feature, creating his own folk tale: a mythic odyssey suffused with modern eco-anxiety, captured in a free-form, image-driven narrative that recalls the work of Terrence Malick. The film came out of nowhere to win the Camera d’Or at Cannes and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and I’m glad it has its champions. In an independent cinema filled with mumblecore realists, a Malick-y magician is a rare and treasurable thing. But not even Malick gets away with all his wobbly voiceover musings and rapturous odes to Nature (which one must never, in writing about Malick, spell with a lower-case "n"). That too-poetic title suggests both the scope of the film and its occasional wincers. Read More...


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