By Anna Bielak | May 18, 2012
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Writers: Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Jonshel Alexander, Marilyn Barbarin, Kaliana Brower, Henry D. Coleman, Joseph Brown, Nicholas Clark
The light in Benh Zeitlin’s Beast of the Southern Wild is similar to the light that Terrence Malick captures in his films. In Zeitlin’s film, the light is imprisoned within the frames of a portrait that depicts a world suffering from a peculiar catastrophe. It haunts my mind and disturbs my soul, but I like it. From the very first scene in which she appears, I am a bit fascinated with Zeitlin’s lead protagonist and her ill father who appears a few minutes later. They inhabit two old and devastated, wooden cottages in the forest near the river. Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) is named after an animal. She is like a little beast of this southern wild. She is sweet and dreadfully intelligent. She knows how to survive. She squeals as if she is the real bird of prey and she sees how the wind blows. With these gifts, Hushpuppy’s senses have become really strong that her(!) world is drawing near its end.
Apart from the girl’s hypnotic visions, I find it very interesting how independent filmmakers portray the apocalyptic world. They usually resign to portraying dirt cities (as mainstream directors do) to catch a glimpse of a dying environment (such as Harmony Korine’s Gummo or Jan Kwiecinski’s episode in The Forth Dimension); they focus on a wild, sort of bizarre, beauty. Hushpuppy sees it all, appreciates it all, and drags me into the process of decay. She hardly knows the adult world; yet, as an actress, Quvenzhané Wallis knows perfectly well what to do to magnetize the viewer. Her presence is vital; the demons chasing her in her dreams are essential. She needs to wait for them to come into her reality; she has to face them in a world that is falling apart right in front of her eyes.
“Just don’t cry!” says Wink (Dwight Henry), her father. He says that twice. Even if it helps Hushpuppy remain brave, it has no proper influence on me. It is more or less like telling someone “just don’t fall in love with me”; because we all know (as protagonists of romantic comedies have taught us), that it is the fastest and easiest way to make someone love you. So, I cried. I am not ashamed of it because it happens about twice a year in cinema (even if I watch about 300 movies a year) and I am glad to set my emotions free; it assures me that I have experienced something real, extraordinary and unforgettable.