Saturday, September 22, 2012

Various Apocalypses Part 1: BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

Hush Puppy is a girl of six. She lives in a small community on a bump in the sea outside the post-Katrina levees called The Bathtub. Beyond those is a land where everyone is dependent on consumer goods and a false ecosystem that is sucking the life out of the universe. This is the depiction Hush Puppy is given in her local informal schooling, along with all the other kids. The world is soon to end, starting with the melting ice caps which will loose the frozen tusky giant boars that the ice keeps prisoner.

The community on the bathtub at first seems to be enjoying itself immensely. We meet them during celebrations that involve fireworks like the July 4 malarky folk beyond the levees go on about. The music is gloriously Cajun and the people's plain lives apparently happy. The houses and various forms of water transport are made of things the folk over the water have used and abandoned. Wink, HP's tough-love father with the worrying illdefined medical condition, drives a boat made of an old ute which I would have wanted if I'd seen this film as a child. Oh, there's your reference point in chief, by the way.

Beasts is a child's fable. HP's narration throughout fills us in on the way the information is processed. When Wink collapses in the bush and seems to have a kind of seizure, HP is alerted immediately by the sound of thunder to imagine a mighty and terminal looking weather system heading her way. This elegant economy of signification relieves this film of both the potential fall into tweeness from all the sweet magical realism on show and any alienation we might feel on witnessing this subsistence lifestyle. Also, HP's observations reveal more to us that she is able to comprehend herself.

There is a storm a-comin' and it will probably mean the end of the world, the onset of the reign of the beasts and the ever tearing rip in the universe. All we need start with is HP's fantasies of her long departed mother (never declared dead) and the very real possibility of her father (ie her world) being plucked from their home by the wind and water or those strange folk at the hospitals. The rest might as well be the end of all creation. This strikes every viewer of this film as they are or have been children and know the horror of the notion of the loss of their protectors and teachers. HP goes further, being forced to by her circumstances, and learns to find her own courage.

I typed those words just then but I promise you if I'd seen them typed by anyone else I'd avoid this film like another broken fibula. I'd cry "twee" and have done. But all of this is carried with no sausage meat forcing by a deft diredtorial hand that has expertly judged the position of the line of whimsy and cloying garbage. This is mainly due to a magnetic central performance by Quvenzhane Wallis who reminds us of how serious is a child at play (one for the Nietzscheans, there).

We hear HP's thoughts more than we witness her speak them but by the time she needs to speak we are already well prepared for her odd and heavily accented declaration of the coming catalcysm. The final image (of which Wes Anderson would have made a cute tableau) with the strength of purpose already established is both heart-in-mouth heroic and pitiably despairing.

If we are to have American Indy standing in for barrier-nudging cinema then let it be like this.

Still in cinemas at time of posting.

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