Where the Beasts of the Southern Wild Things Are

It took me a while to get around to seeing this Oscar nominated movie. I checked it out of Redbox for over a week and ended up taking it back without ever watching it. Then I ordered it on Netflix after I saw that Kimtastic liked it so much. I generally respect Kimtastic’s opinions on such things and she didn’t fail me on this one either.

Here’s a blurb about it from IMDb: Faced with both her hot-tempered father’s fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.

I thought I was really awesome for picking up all the similarities between this movie and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, but in doing some research I see that others have noticed it, too. So let me start my review of this movie by saying, if you’re a fan of Where the Wild Things Are, if you “get it”, then you’ll more than likely “get” Beasts of the Southern Wild.

If you read Wild Things and scratched your head, and wondered what all the fuss was about, if you are a person who needs literality, linear plots, and lots of dialogue, then this movie will not be for you.

Southern Wild is told completely from the point of view of Hushpuppy, who is an extremely young girl at six-years-old. Hushpuppy is Max, but instead of a wolf costume, she mainly runs around in white galoshes and orange underwear.

At six-years-old, very little of the world makes sense, and much about it is frightening. At that age, we rely heavily on our imaginations to fill in the gaps and to make the scary things a little less frightening. You must be able to make yourself go back to being a little kid and remember how easily the shadows became monsters and simple stories become something more fabulous. Remember when sickness and death were beyond a grown up’s ability to explain and you had to reason it out for yourself in ways that ended up being fantastic and fanciful. Remember how easily you believed in Santa, and the Tooth Fairy, and how infallible your loved ones were and then how much it hurt and confused you when those perfect parents or siblings did something that let you down. Remember all that when you watch Beasts of the Southern Wild and Hushpuppy’s world will make a lot more sense.

Some of the criticism I’ve read about the movie said that it was too chaotic and lacked a plot. Maybe that’s true, but how can a story told by a six or seven year old contain much of a structured plot? I think it would contradict the tone of the story. I also read that it was too dark and that poverty and ignorance are nothing to be celebrated. Maybe not, but I don’t think this movie was trying to do that. Hushpuppy and her people are ferociously independent and fiercely proud. They are the beasts, and there is no other appropriate home for them in the world except this wild place called Bathtub, a village in the Mississippi delta.

They spend their days enjoying many versions of the Wild Rumpus and there’s no way their spirits would ever be tamed to fit into 9 to 5 civilization. I think the idea of people living comfortably on the border between human and beast threatens some viewers. But if you’ve ever, just once, considered what it would be like to shuck the conventions of the modern world and go survive only on your instincts, then maybe you can appreciate Hushpuppy’s world, despite the mud and dirt.

My favorite scene from the movie was near the end, and if you’re a fan of Where the Wild Things Are, then quote this line from the book in your head while you watch it, and try not to get a lump in your throat. I dare you.

And when [s]he came to the place where the wild things are, they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till [Hushpuppy] said, ‘Be still’ and tamed them with the magic trick of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once. And they were frightened and called [her] the most wild thing of all and made [her] king of all wild things.”

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