Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  Roger Ebert (4 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

Beasts of the Southern Wild (directed and cowritten by Behn Zeitlin along with Lucy Alibar) is a critically acclaimed / award-winning contemporary fable about a young girl nicknamed Hushpuppy (played by Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father (played by Dwight Henry) living in the Bayou region of Louisiana. 

It's a subsistence life but not without its joys.  Snippets of  the Bayou (Cajun / poor African-American Louisiana Creole as opposed to "High" more white dominated "New Orleans" Creole) culture are shown but more to "give flavor" to the story than to document anything.  (Behn Zeitlin is apparently a "contemporary folklorist." For better and for worse, this background clearly shows in the film).

This way of life, lived after all, at or near sea-level (the specific place where Hushpuppy, her father and their friends live is called "The Bathtub" in the film) is threatened by storms/pollution and global warming.  These dangers come to be epitomized by giant mammals frozen in the ice of (presumably) Antarctica that are thawed during the course of the story and eventually come charging across the otherwise newly flooded terrain of "the Bathtub" marshlands/islands that Hushpuppy and her father had called home.

This all can start to come across as rather pretentious and the using snippets of people and their culture in a way that makes them "besides the point" in the service of "a larger cause" that is perhaps more questionable than they themselves and their immediate problems are, is problematic to me here.

Don't get me wrong.  I know something about "river people culture," having visited our Servite Mission in Acre, Brazil three times and leading a group there once.  I've also been fascinated by stories of how some fugitive African slaves in both Brazil [Port-orig, Eng-trans] and in the United States after fleeing their captors created communities in both the Amazon region of Brazil and in the Bayou regions of the United States.  There's a book called by Kenneth Porter called The Black Seminoles about the history of Bayou living African American refugees in the pre-Civil War era.  Having been to our Servite mission in Brazil, I also have an appreciation of both the life in Acre (Xapuri, Sena Madureira) and of the wholesale destruction of the rain forest there.  At my previous assignment, at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church down in Kissimmee, FL, I also learned some Haitian Creole (as about 5-10% of the parish was Haitian-American whose contribution to the parish's life greatly exceeded that).  And when I left that parish to come to where I'm currently stationed (in Chicago), I spent a number of days down in New Orleans and later in the Bayou region of Louisiana looking-up some of the African American communites where Louisiana Creole would still be spoken.  So I'm neither environmentally nor culturally insensitive nor am I approaching this film as a complete dis-or-uninterested neophyte.

Indeed, my concern is that a film like this will be "consumed" by "liberal" viewers in a way that will get them to ritually "nod up and down" about "the dangers of global warming" without seeing the film as an invitation to go down to Louisiana and actually try to encounter / interact with the culture being described in the film.  Brazil is, unfortunately very far away from the United States.  But Louisiana certainly is not.

So lets keep the mythological beasts "on ice" and focus on and appreciate the people please.

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