Beasts of the Southern Wild

Synopsis: In a forgotten but defiant bayou community cut off from the rest of the world by a sprawling levee, a six-year-old girl exists on the brink of orphanhood. Buoyed by her childish optimism and extraordinary imagination, she believes that the natural world is in balance with the universe until a fierce storm changes her reality. Desperate to repair the structure of her world in order to save her ailing father and sinking home, this tiny hero must learn to survive unstoppable catastrophes of epic proportions.

Beasts of the Southern Wild 5.25

eyelights: the motion picture score
eyesores: the creepy, feral dad.

Wow. I hate to have to admit to this, given the acclaim that this film is garnering, but I found ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ tedious. Let me rephrase that: I found almost nothing of interest in the picture. I didn’t hate it. But I also didn’t really see the point, and was dying to glance at my watch (but I didn’t out of consideration for my partner).

Thing is, I connected with none of the characters. I sat there, completely disinterested in them, their fate, or their impact on anything. I didn’t even find the little girl interesting or relatable. And as for her father… well, he freaked me out. I found him kind of disturbing, like a mad dog who was left in charge of a child. Eek. The performances were quite fine, but I found each character far too alien for me to understand.

I also struggled with the meaning of the film. It’s clear that it’s meant to be more than just the story of a few people living on the other side of a levee, who are trying to survive a major flood. It’s likely more than a mere one-dimensional tale, given the few comments some characters make about every little piece being part of a larger puzzle and that how, when you break one piece, you break everything. But how did the allegory fit? Search me. I have no idea.

Part of the problem is that the storytelling wasn’t as mellifluous as it should be. There were plenty of moments that simply didn’t connect properly, such as the group of girls swimming off to a boat that takes them to the “lost mothers”, but then we suddenly see them walking back somehow, after meeting with the women. Or how about the time they escape the hospital, hobbling and lamely walking away? Could no one catch up with them? Apparently not.

Personally, I suspect that there were some parts of the film that simply weren’t translated from paper to film adequately, that the ideas were initially much more cohesive than what we saw on screen. It’s also possible that footage was excised in the editing room for time considerations, or perhaps some scenes weren’t as good as expected and they had to do some emergency surgery on the film. Perhaps the DVD will provide insight in the matter. But, as it stands, it’s a slightly incoherent piece.

Another key issue for me is the fidelity of the audio at the cinema we went to. I have found this particular cinema quite unreliable in the past, as though the dialogue doesn’t come out clearly enough. Even basic North American films such as a Woody Allen picture get this muddled treatment, so you can imagine what happens when there’s an accent or any ambient noise – the dialogue then tends to get lost. At least on home video one can turn on the subtitles if needed. Not so here.

The one saving grace of ‘Beasts…’ was its musical score. Director Benh Zeitlin paired up with producer and composer Dan Romer to create a gorgeous, sumptuous and playful score that dwarfs the picture and embellishes it equally. Frankly, I’m so in love with the music that I would easily consider buying the soundtrack. I can barely fathom what the movie experience would have been for me if not for this music. This alone notches the film up a couple of points, so it would have been a terribly grim 90 minutes otherwise.

As far as I’m concerned, ‘Beast of the Southern Wild’ may have the makings of something brilliant, but it seems to me that the intentions were lost in translation. Having said this, I would recommend that you don’t take my word for it. Seeing as I’m the only person unimpressed with the film, I suspect that the issue is me – for whatever reason, it didn’t connect with me and didn’t capture my curiosity or my imagination and stimulate my intellect the right way. But don’t write it off: if a friend who knows you well recommends that you should see it, do.

Date of viewing: September 14, 2012

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