Thoughts on "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

So last night I finally saw "Beasts of the Southern Wild," the strange new film by director Benh Zeitlin and Court 13. I was a huge fan of his short film, "Glory at Sea," which came out a few years ago (check it out at the link!). And I was vaguely aware of this new project as they were working on it over the past three years. But the short film was so striking and original and wonderfully compact, I was also somewhat skeptical about how they would approach a longer film with very similar elements.

Of course, now the film arrives after causing a sensation at Cannes and Sundance and essentially everywhere it has played. So last night, at The Prytania, I finally saw it, with the added bonus of a director's Q & A at the end of the film. The place was sold out, and once the film started, you could hear a pin drop, not that anyone was dropping them. Initially, I was somewhat disappointed--and feeling guilty for not being swept away by this new film. Yet part of the problem was that some of the story and characters and even some of the (non-)actors were carry-overs from "Glory At Sea," so in spite of my better judgement, I couldn't stop from comparing the two. Both feature an other-worldly yet familiar rural community that has its own folk-lore and belief system, and more significantly, an unbreakable bond to both the land and the water.

But about two-thirds of the way through "Beasts of the Southern Wild," all of its carefully placed elements began to bleed together in a way that completely swept me away to the point that I thought I might begin wailing so loudly that I'd drown out the film. I love a movie that turns on me that way!

Even more impressive was the post-film discussion with Zeitlin, who is almost

perversely focused in a way that I wish I was (and he's twenty years younger!). For someone who only moved here after the storm, he has a solid understanding of the way the world looks from here, rather than from the outside in. That sensibility includes believing that the film is actually a piece of realism, rather than the magical realism for which so many outsiders admire it.

Hopefully Ben is more amused than I by this completely insane interpretation from some misguided know-it all in Chicago: "Beasts of the Southern Wild: A Republican Fantasy?"


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