Sunday, February 17, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Plot: Six year old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) lives in a rural southern Louisiana swamp called The Bathtub with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) who is poor, sick and often drunk. Hushpuppy takes care of  herself and the neighbors watchover her. Her father gets sick; there is a storm with terrible flooding; there are dream sequences of monsters; and  Hushpuppy looks for her mother. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: This is two movies at once: on one level it is a story of poor people with a "It Takes A Village to Raise a Child" message, and it is also about the monsters of life, the horrors of civilization, global environmental breakdown. 

The enjoyable part is how Hushpuppy overcomes problems and how the poor people of the Bathtub take care of each other. The sobering part is poor and dysfunctional it all is, and how it could be better. Films need evil to be overcome so I should not complain about how dreary it is, but the bad parts are pretty unpleasant.

The dreary parts in the middle are redeemed by the relatively optimistic ending, so I finished watching in a good mood. 

Cast: Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly

Directed by: Benh Zeitlin; based on a play by Lucy Alibar

Rating: 2.75 stars: I saw this on a plane, so it might have been rated higher in the theater. It was enjoyable. 
More: Poverty porn is showing photos extreme poverty to produce emotions in the audience perhaps made worse by not aiding the subject of the photography. There is melodramatic manipulation in this movie, but that is what moviemaking and storytelling generally is. In a modern US movie, none of the actors are mistreated. In a documentary, perhaps there could be moral liability. 

The ethics of poverty porn are distant from the ethics of journalism which hold that a journalist cannot objectively tell a story if s/he is involved in the story. Of course, there is no journalism here. On the other hand sometimes the best thing a photographer can do is take pictures and show them.