A wild journey

If you love movies, don't miss "Beasts of the Southern Wild." It is thought-provoking, startlingly original, a film that implicitly parses the difference between life as presented in film and fiction, with an arc that propels the narrative forward, and life as it's lived daily, often found in cinema verite, typically absent a clearly defined arc, embedded with a familiar if disconcerting randomness.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" is closer to the latter than the former — loosely constructed, a mélange of moments, absent a coherent story. A possible character study, though the protagonist is too young to contain the inherent contradictions and flaws and formed strengths typical of someone older.

The film follows a 6-year-old girl, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), who lives with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), in a coastal Louisiana bayou community called the Bathtub. Described as being on the wrong side of the levee. She is precocious, rebellious and all but orphaned by Wink, an alcoholic, abusive, unpredictable presence in her life. There is nothing appealing about him; in fact, he is chronically irresponsible and constantly conveys to Hushpuppy that he may, at any moment, absent himself from her life. A cruel message to be sure. A cruel and unsympathetic man who does not easily find redemption in the last act of the film.

In voice over, Hushpuppy reflects on what she observes in the Bathtub, and how the scaffolding of the universe seems ordered and still mysterious, a world not unlike that of Maurice Sendak, wildly imagined, where aurochs (a prehistoric, wild, boar-like creature as large as a taxi cab) roam the swampy grasses of the bayou.

She is resilient, fierce, a feral child who survives in a world where the denizens of the Bathtub are madly dysfunctional, all but feral themselves, no matter how joyous or sympathetic they may seem. They're a de facto group that exists on the frayed margins of life, the all-too-familiar societal flotsam and jetsam, long ago resigned to being lost, their days too often viewed through an alcoholic haze. They are clearly not prepared to raise children; yet, they have children, raising them as best they can. Or not.

Director Behn Zeitlin thus fashions a collage of authentic images (he uses locals as actors), images that are gorgeous to be sure (but is this a great movie?), creating a fable that perhaps, akin to cinema verite, mirrors life too closely.

At its core, however, exists a simple wish: that for Hushpuppy, all outcomes will be for the best as she struggles against the cross currents of life in the Bathtub, however chaotic and seemingly insurmountable they may be, however remote the prospect of stability. She will survive. The question that lingers is how, should the wild things one day take their leave.

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