Review: “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

If there’s one film to see this year, Beasts of the Southern Wild could be it. Playing at the Varsity Theatre in Ashland, it is a must see, particularly at this time while Hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaac, and the Republican National Convention pass over us like a harbinger of more destruction to come in the first case, and glossy delivery of deceit, stormy news coverage and question-raising extravagance in the second.

It is amazing to watch the child actor who stars in this film about life and death in a severely stressed outpost on the Louisiana delta. She holds our rapt attention and I marvel at her strength, resilience, fortitude and beauty, her inner spirit as well as her charming appearance. Narrated in her voice and words, a creative look at a disturbing world through the eyes of a six year old is both hopeful and heart-rendering. “Hushpuppy” has a father who is terminally ill and drinking to hide it. The neighbors on the bayou live a hard life of freedom at all costs. When an impending storm again threatens their existence, we witness an array of coping skills as Hushpuppy and other “Beasts of the Southern Wild” rise in bravery and pure survival instincts to outlive an ongoing catastrophe.

There is much to recommend this movie, beyond a wonderful story with intriguing characters. Hushpuppy’s teacher at the jerry-rigged floating school minces no words when educating her ragged pupils about the harsh realities of rising oceans and the impact on their way of life. How this rough information is taken to heart and used in the imagination of Hushpuppy and her friends is a cautionary tale for us all.

During the recent Republican Convention, not one of the well-groomed speakers mentioned climate change. The impotence of the political party in place and the disbelieve or callousness of the other is very disturbing in light of the reality that hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens in America and millions all over the world are barely coping with rising seas and unprecedented destructive weather events. Up on dry land aspiring politicians and those in power spew words like “believe, hope and jobs” but these ideals and conceptual jargon are not life rafts for the jobless, the homeless or displaced and they have floated the middle class into a puddle of confusion. Both parties, in my opinion, have failed and the spirit of people like Hushpuppy may be our best means to face the extremes barreling down on all of us in the form of flood, fully melted ice caps, drought and chemical poisoning of the air, food, land and water, sexism , prejudice and elitism.

The film is a riveting tribute to a terrible truth: we live in the time of the Sixth Extinction, which through profligate use of polluting resources, irresponsible actions and, the greed-motivated pushing of products, ideology, false promises and lies by corporations, the mainstream media and government, manmade environmental devastation in a short 200 years has accelerated the Sixth Extinction by millions of years. And let’s not let ourselves off the hook; we are daily consumers of the products, pacifications, entertainments, excuses, delusions and comforts we hold dear. We all are prisoners and contributors to what could be our own demise.

As messaged in the film, it is time to be brave, face our demons and survive. As humans we must stare down the “Aurochs” of our fate as symbolized by the four huge mutated ancient killer bovines that march across and terrorized Hushpuppy’s landscape. These, like the Four Horses of the Apocalypse in biblical times, give a face to many 21st century threats like abuse of power, rising oceans, genetic engineering, dependence on chemicals and pharmaceuticals and mixing our food sources with cross-species experiments. As politicians turn their backs in willful disregard for environmental tragedies man-made in this and the past century, and “save” us (as when rescue workers remove island disaster victims by force), I can only think in wonderment and resentment about how tax dollars are thrown away on us as an after- the-fact gesture – like an apology for not facing and addressing the real problems head on.

I’ve often expressed my belief that “every problem carries within itself its solutions.” If we want to address the problem of jobs then a full scale effort could be mobilized around reversing the environmental hazards we have been causing. Romney should be ashamed of his closing statement in his acceptance speech to the Republican Convention; to say Obama “promised to lower the rising oceans and heal the planet” (giving the mean-spirited implication that Obama saw himself as omnipotent or that real environmental problems don’t exist) and that he, Romney, only promises to help “you and your families”. Romney means exactly that: he will help HIS own, but you can bet the rest of us, living on or very close to a real, metaphorical or financial “bayou” about to be flooded by the actions or inactions of either major party make it way past time to get tough and get real and find our power and bravery, confront and change our monsters and champion the children and the planet.
Hushpuppy for President!