Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Spirit to Endure

I’ve never written a 
blog entry about a movie before, but recently I experienced a film worth reflecting on (and no, I will not tell you
how it ends). 
            The Beasts of the Southern Wild digs into the viewer, touching each of us in a primal and discomforting way. Its opening scenes carry us along the delta and bayou terrain of Louisiana 
to a fictitious town called The Bathtub. The world of The Bathtub is paradoxically both grimy and magical, and through the machinations of child’s mind it takes on mythological proportions.
            I didn’t know, until the next day, when I did some online searching, that the brilliant director of the film, Benh Zeitlin, is only 19 years old. Here’s what film critic Roger Ebert had to say about Zeitlin’s film: “Sometimes miraculous films come into being, made by people you’ve never heard of, starring unknown faces, blindsiding you with creative genius. This is such a movie and one of the year’s best.”
            Central to the story line is the relationship between a little girl and her father. Both characters are played by people who never acted a day in their lives. Dwight Henry, who plays the father, is a baker, and Quvenzhané Wallis, a six year old with a spirit and power of self-expression seldom seen in people of any age. Go to YouTube to see their interviews after you’ve seen the movie. The complex nature of their relationship is nuanced and changing to the last moment.

            Aside from the story, the filming, and the grit, Beasts of the Southern Wild focuses attention on the Louisiana delta, showing us the vulnerability of humans and wildlife in the region. In showing us the aftermath of just one storm, I felt as if Zeitlin was shaking every one of us by the shoulders begging us to wake up and do something about the crucial care Louisiana needs. With the destruction of one levee, with the impact of one storm, ocean water can mix with fresh and kill off all manner of plants and animals.
            Even from the beginning of the film, there is a sense of the people of The Bathtub living in the aftermath of a calamity, like sci fi flicks set in post atomic Earth. And there is no pretention that things will get better. Yet all the while the people of the Bathtub keep singing and playing the blessed spirited music that Louisiana gives the world.
            It’s a mystery how such infectiously happy music comes from a place so challenged by poverty, natural disaster, and all the requisite evils of modern society. Nevertheless, in The Bathtub, in Louisiana, old and young, white, black, and every color of people live together hand in hand, in solidarity, singing and dancing as they go.
            Beasts of the Wild South packs an emotional wallop, and symbolically, it would have kept even Carl Jung watching his dreams.