“Beasts of the Southern Wild,” written by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, directed by Zeitlin, 93 minutes, rated PG-13. Now playing at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville.
The universe is a big place, and it’s particularly overwhelming through the eyes of a 6-year-old. This is where Benh Zeilin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” begins, with a bombardment of sights and sounds as 6-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) introduces us to her life in The Bathtub, a poverty-stricken Southern Delta community.
Hushpuppy has never known her mother, whose fate is left vague. The relationship Hushpuppy has with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), is like that of wild animals, passing the threshold of tough love into a more primal category. Wink drunkenly screams at Hushpuppy, his cub, and lets her fend for herself for days on end without any sign of when, or if, he’ll return. Wink’s parenting, though, is equal parts irresponsibility and philosophy. Death is knocking on his door, and he needs Hushpuppy to be a survivor.
The film follows Hushpuppy as she navigates the world, bracing for her father’s death and the unraveling of the universe after a hurricane devastates The Bathtub, and the melting of the polar caps unleashes allegoric beasts known as the aurochs.
The movie hinges on the performance of Wallis, who plays Hushpuppy as naive and curious to the ways of the world, but headstrong and determined as she comes into her own. Her chemistry with Henry, who owned a bakery before shooting “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” is incredible, especially when taking into consideration the inexperience of both actors. Along with the rest of the cast, Wallis and Henry help generate authenticity, giving audiences an honest perspective of the community and the culture that Zeitlin presents.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a coming of age story, but it’s also a commentary on human nature. Our stubbornness. Our inability to accept change. Our determination. And, of course, our inner beasts, a theme the film consistently returns to. But does “Beasts of the Southern Wild” lump us in with those untamed animals, or, in the end, show just how different we are?