7 May 2018
Beasts of the Southern Wild essay DRAFT 2
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a film set in a bayou community called Bathtub segregated from the rest of society. Closely speaking, it is about Hushpuppy’s personal struggle with the world and eventually coming to terms with it despite being a young child. It is a story of emotion and human connection. There are lots of conflicts being portrayed such as the one between Hushpuppy and her father as well as the one between Bathtub and the city. There are also conflicts “outside” of the film such as her mother leaving them and climate change. These conflicts allow her to forge her own understanding of the world and determination to understand her own place in the universe.
The movie begins with shots of worn trailers and heaps of junk and debris. Our first impression of Bathtub is one of poverty. Very quickly, our narrator introduces us to the Bathtub community. Truthfully, Bathtub is a humble community that is just cut off from the rest of the world by a levee. They are very connected to the earth and enjoy life their own way different from those in the city. They view their life as quite free and self-sufficient since they raise their own animals and catch their own seafood. Another noticeable aspect of the community is their strong conviction against the city (although this could be alternatively interpreted instead as a strong attachment to their home). Wink himself seems to look down upon city life (which is ironic because the city folk can literally look down on them from their tall buildings). Even when their homes are destroyed, they still look forward to rebuilding their community. Consequently, the spirit of the Bathtubbians also manifests itself in Hushpuppy.
The conflict between Bathtub and the city can be demarcated by the levee, with the two sides representing different things. In Bathtub there is the self-reliance and closeness to nature. On the other hand, the city folk is viewed as cowardly hiding behind a levee keeping out the water (biased since the film never takes the perspective of city dwellers). When Bathtub is flooded, the city doesn’t provide any support. Only when the levee is bombed does the city take action but it is only a forced evacuation. This makes the city seem selfish as if motivated by wanting to stay dry. When Hushpuppy was in the inadequate hospital, she remarks that “it looked more like a fish tank with no water”. Some people might view the conflict as a portrayal of poverty verses wealth, but this seems not the focus since from that perspective the film would be glorifying poverty. In the end, by being more than just a home, Bathtub is the background of our protagonist from where the film begins her characterization.
In Bathtub, the children are taught to be able to live for themselves. All throughout the film we see this concept being repeated. Near the beginning during Miss Bathsheba’s lesson, the children are taught about nature. The aurochs themselves are introduced and given the impression of savage predators. Icecaps will melt, some species will go extinct. Times will change and they should learn how to survive with it. This is also relevant to Bathtub way of life. Rather than going to a convenience store for all their needs, they need to be able to take care of themselves with only what little they have. When Wink goes missing for a while, we see that Hushpuppy has the ability to live independently despite being very young. She even has her own trailer. From a depressing perspective, parents teach their kids how to live for the eventuality that one day they will no longer be there to take care of them. Later when Hushpuppy goes searching for her mother, she meets a cook who says “I can’t take care of nobody but myself.” These reoccurring messages are things that we will all eventually have to relate to.
Life is not just about finding food to eat though. It is also about cultivating a mindset. Hushpuppy narrates the film and this allows us to see how her upbringing tempered her worldview. Low shots emphasize the focus on her. Hushpuppy finds her situation similar to the aurochs of the past and grows closer to them as a result, despite the enormous time gap. The aurochs are a species that became extinct due to a combination of climate change and over-hunting. She too lives in a period of climate change, the immediate matter being the storm that is coming to Bathtub. In the face of these crises, Hushpuppy interacts and connects with those around her in an exploration of her identity. The turning point of her emotions happens when she knows her dad is dying and goes in search of her mother. The lessons she learns is never directly explained but becomes our own through our own interpretation. Finally, she confronts and leaves the aurochs whom she considers as companions for walking alongside with her. Thanks to everyone, Hushpuppy has grown up to recognize life as in harmony with nature.
Weather has always been used as an important element in movies and it is no different in this film. A notable example is when Wink first collapses and it is juxtaposed with iceberg collapsing. When Hushpuppy says “I think I broke something,” we sense that she feels a personal link with what is happening in the world. When she affects the people around her negatively, she also negatively affects the world. This is a crucial point that allows us to see the upcoming storm, a critical driving force for the plot, as something more than just a storm. From her point of view, the storm may as well be the end of the world and that she did something really wrong. Bathtub gets flooded by the storm because the levee holds the water back. The flood kills all life and it only justifies her primitive understanding of nature as being violent, like near the beginning when the aurochs have been portrayed by her imagination as fierce and brutal. In an attempt to fix the world and undo the damage that she feels responsibly for, she directly participates in the bombing of the levee. With this, it can be seen how important the weather is to Hushpuppy’s growth of perspective on the nature of things.
The largest influence on Hushpuppy is ultimately her own father. Hushpuppy’s own distinct tenacity originates from Wink’s toughness, and the film does a remarkable job making those qualities stand out in them. Our initial impression of Hushpuppy’s father can be described as drunk or abusive. However, we know that in his heart that he truly cares for Hushpuppy deeply. When the storm hits he says “it’s my job to keep you from dying.” Sometimes his actions may seem like minor neglect. On the other hand, it can be interpreted, in the context of Wink’s portended death, as him preparing Hushpuppy for independence while also reducing the pain that his passing will bring her. e seems the toughest in Bathtub. He stays behind during the storm. Throughout the movie we routinely see scenes where he peps Hushpuppy up.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a complex narrative told through the perspective of Hushpuppy, a young child. It is a story of change and human interaction, while cleverly bringing in larger reflective thoughts to tell a lesson. Such lessons can be applied to different circumstances, allowing the movie to connect on a personal level to a wider audience. Each well-placed scene and conflict guides us to form our own interpretation of the film. Catalyzed with Hushpuppy’s unforgettable spirit, Beasts of the Southern Wild forms a unique impression on each of those who watch it.
Sources of ideas:
Film Analysis of Beasts of the Southern Wild: Beats in the Cinematic Wild