Sunday, February 17, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Unleashing My Inner Colonialist

Best Picture Roundup: Silver Linings Playbook | Argo | Les Mis | Life of Pi | Beasts of the Southern Wild | Lincoln | Django Unchained | Zero Dark Thirty | Amour

Having watched Beasts of the Southern Wild about a week ago, here's the plot as best I can remember (and trust me, Spoiler Alert is not the kind of warning that applies to a movie like this): There's this adorable little girl named Hushpuppy,who lives behind a New Orleans levee in a poor swamp community. Her father, an emotionally abusive drunk, forces Hushpuppy to live by herself in a shack until, unsupervised, she burns it down in a kitchen fire (although "kitchen" is a generous description). Then there's a storm and the community floods. The small community of destitute alcoholics band together and rebuild until government-types show up and force them to abandon their homes for a refugee shelter in the civilized world. They escape and return home, then Hushpuppy and some other children swim out in the ocean where they are picked up by a hobo on a boat who takes them to a brothel. Hushpuppy meets a hooker/mother figure, then decides to return home to her father who is now dying. He dies, and emotions are had. Also there are giant boars (the titular "Beasts") rampaging through the countryside, which may exist only as metaphors in Hushpuppy's mind. So, if you're the kind of person who likes movies with gripping narratives and engaging characters, you can skip watching it now.

But seriously: D'awwwww

I didn't hate Beasts of the Southern Wild, but I reckon I was supposed to get more out of it than I did. It's the kind of movie that piles up film festival awards and critical praise, but also is characterized by phrases like "poetry in film" which, I've come to learn, tend to denote a movie best appreciated by people who aren't me. Hushpuppy is an interesting character, but my reaction was perhaps not what the film intended. My main thought throughout the movie was, "this poor little girl is living in squalor, filth, and ignorance, and she desperately needs to be rescued from it."

Normally I'm a pretty live-and-let-live, liberal kind of guy, but Beasts brought out my inner colonialist. Save Hushpuppy! Give her the benefits of civilization, of decent healthcare, public education, and a foster or adopted family who will not insult, abuse, and neglect her! Forget about the film's idealization of her community's simple lifestyle; she need rescuing!

Call Bono, whatever. Just come over and help Hushpuppy.

Yes, Beasts of the Southern Wild made me feel like I imagine European explorers felt when they encountered various indigenous peoples centuries ago. Those poor, benighted savages! They need the blessings of civilization, whether they want it or not. It's practically unchristian to deny them! Hushpuppy deserves better than her community can provide.

Hushpuppy made me, if only temporarily, toss aside my natural suspicion of colonialism. Of course, the movie itself isn't innocent in that regard, with its often doe-eyed portrayal of Hushpuppy's community of Noble Savages. But ultimately, my real problem was that Beasts of the Southern Wild asked me to cheer for an unconquerable little girl as she triumphed over all kind of adversity, and instead I just kept thinking "Good Lord, somebody's got to get her out of that hellhole."