Beasts of the Southern Wild – Benh Zeitlin

Magical realism is brought to the cinema in this recently released, haunting and captivating movie that I watched earlier today.

Much of the impact of the film is purely sensory. Cinematography that creates beauty out of misery; a 6 year old actress who is as captivating as the most accomplished Hollywood diva; enchanting  music that envelops the whole performance.

But questions are raised.

As this dirt poor, Bayou community living outside the levee is hit by a hurricane, homes and livestock destroyed, imagined images of global change flood the screen. Melting ice-caps, the re-incarnation of primeval creatures – as far as this small community is concerned, a whole universal transformation seems to be happening – a transformation they are determined to resist in their little patch of land barely above water level and affectionately known as The Bathtub.

But, as with the environmental debate in general, we are left with more questions than answers. Once again we don’t know which side to take. As the twin tragedies of abject poverty and environmental disaster grind on this community, what should we feel?

Should we admire their  resistance and determination to remain at home in the face of Government imposed mandatory evacuation? Or is that just sheer stupidity and irresponsibility?

Should we rejoice in the humanity that this community reveals or should we be consumed with indignation that such living conditions still exist in the wealthiest country in the world?

And, when it comes to the fantastical imagery that links the local disaster to broader environmental degradation elsewhere, should we understand that literally or as the fevered imagination of a child’s brain?

Is it tenacity and strength of character or is it foolishness that convinces the protagonists that they can resist the forces of nature and maintain their life in the bathtub?

Should we admire a society that cares nothing for social advancement or consumerism or should we be shocked that in the US of A there remain such isolated, almost feral, communities?

This movie is not worth missing. It feeds both the mind and the spirit. And it leaves us in a state of almost suspended animation where we are overtaken by emotions as well as thoughts but we’re not quite sure what they are or what they should be.

It leaves us confused – about life, about our society, about the environment, about our own feelings. And that’s as it should be – because confused is indeed what we all are today.

“The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right” – noble sentiments expressed by our heroine Hush Puppy. But it is clear that we have no idea what ‘just right’ might be.

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