An Eco-Fairy Tale: Beasts of the Southern Wild
If you care about how global warming is changing our world for the worst; if you mourn the ghosts of animals like the dodo who no longer roam the earth due to human folly; if you still feel outrage about how the poor, the elderly, the sick, the vulnerable were left behind to die after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, then you need to see Beasts of the Southern Wild, an indie film that has received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The very title of director Benh Zeitlin’s first film about a young girl, 6-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis, who received the nomination for Best Actress) and her hard-drinking father, Wink (Dwight Henry) suggests that Beasts of the Southern Wild isn’t going to be ye average Hollywood blockbuster.
A “Coming-of-Age” Movie
The movie is centered around Hushpuppy, who lives in the Bathtub, a fictional community in the Louisiana bayou. She and Wink occupy a shack and trawl the bayou’s waters for food in a vessel that seems to be made of debris. With a big storm on the way and her father succumbing to an illness that leaves him shaking on the ground, Hushpuppy finds her life thrown into chaos.
Hushpuppy tries to understand all this by making up a story about a girl (also named Hushpuppy), her father and a mother (Hushpuppy’s own has gone missing). Her fears are portrayed as aurochs, giant beasts who once existed and are now extinct.
A Fable About Climate Change
With its focus on its young protagonist, Beasts of the Southern Wild has been called a coming-of-age drama. However, it is just as much an “eco-threat movie” that shows how extreme weather events can alter the world as we know it, forever.
The movie set in southern Louisiana and more than a few statements about climate change are placed in Hushpuppy’s mouth. “Everything has to fit together just right. If it doesn’t, it all falls apart,” she says. These words can be applied to a discussion about how our burning of fossil fuels can be linked to the the lessening sea ice in the Arctic and other world-wide effects of global warming.
Hushpuppy and the Aurochs
As the movie draws to a close, Hushpuppy confronts her fears for her father and about the storm by standing up to a herd of aurochs, the “beasts of the southern wild.” As director Zeitlin says, Hushpuppy is
… recognizing the harmony that she’s always talked about in nature. Everything is its own being. There is a natural point at which organisms in nature show weakness and allow for each other to exist—the same way she learns from her friends in The Bathtub [the fictional Louisiana community where Hushpuppy and her father live] to take care of each other. The aurochs recognize her as a similarly ferocious beast. And so they give way.
Beasts of the Southern Wild leaves its viewers with a challenge. The movie urges us to acknowledge the inter-connectedness between the pieces of the universe — by showing how, for a young child, the terminal illness of a parent and an imminent natural disaster are experienced as one and the same – and also to confront and deal with them.
If a 6-year-old girl can stand up to a herd of giant beasts, can we not do the same with all that threatens our world, be it global corporations seeking to drill further and deeper into the earth and under the sea for oil, or climate change deniers who pounce on a cold winter as “evidence” that global warming is just a myth?
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