Beasts of the Southern Wild Review: A Coming of Age Tale Told Through the Innocence of a Child’s Eyes

Beasts of the Southern Wild

With Beasts of the Southern Wild director Behn Zehn has put together a sweepingly beautiful and challenging debut film, in which a little girl finds herself in a near impossible situation, trying to survive in a run down bayou community with a sick father, the threat of flooding, and not much else. This film will hit a lot of people hard, as it should. It should also be thought of as a brilliant movie and should be considered when discussing the best films of 2012. However, that’s not what’s about to happen in this review.

Along with the beauty, tragedy, and downright wonderful performances in this film comes a fundamental difficulty in trying to understand exactly what this movie is about and an inevitable disconnect between the subject matter and audiences. This reviewer feels somewhat ill-equipped to review this film as it deals with issues in which I have never even come close to experiencing. The film is politically and emotionally charged, but when it comes right down to it, the film is simplified by the innocence of the protagonist of the story, a little girl named Hushpuppy.

This little girl is the heart and soul of the film, and it would be quite a challenge to find a performance that has been more complete and more heartbreaking than that of Quvenzhané Wallis’ take on the character. Filmed when the young actress was just 5 years old, there are very few performers today, child or adult, who could handle a role as pivotal as the character this young girl put on her shoulders.

Dwight Henry plays the Hushpuppy’s father, Wink, who is very tough on his daughter as he helps her to grow up at such a young age. He tries to teach her ways she can survive, continually preparing her for what’s coming, when she no longer has a father to take care of her, which, under his circumstances in the film, appears to be a time not too far in the future. He puts together a very loud and entertaining supporting performance here.

The film itself, however, does live and die with the Hushpuppy character. The story being told from such a young child’s perspective gives the film a unique quality and gives a strong sense of imagination to an environment in which it would be hard for an older mind to hold onto that imagination, or even hope. The innocence of a child allows for a simplified understanding of difficult circumstances and provides an element of fantasy to the story (Hushpuppy describes the ancient Aurochs, beasts that were frozen during the ice age and have now been set free with the melting of the polar ice caps).

The movie manages to be a very serious dose of reality and escapism simultaneously, as the audience will get some feel for a post-Katrina type world that is rarely, if ever discussed or noticed. I imagine some will find this film completely fantastical and will write it off as a complete work of fiction, because there are some moments in which there is some question to whether the things happening are in the child’s mind or are in reality, but there are quite obviously some underlying serious issues being brought to the forefront with this film.

So, while there may be a social disconnect with many an audience for this film, the unique storytelling capability from the director and the unprecedented performance brought to life by Wallis certainly makes Beasts of the Southern Wild a film worthy of being given a chance.


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I'm Kevin Licht, a graduate from the University of Missouri with a bachelor's degree in English and a minor emphasis in Film Studies. When I'm not working I watch and write

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  1. Nice review! Looking forward to watching it.

  2. Petra Foster

    First time I hear about this movie. Does it have a digital release date?

    • Kevin Licht

      There was an early digital release and the DVD release was set for Tuesday, December 4th. It should be available to watch now.

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