The Beasts of the Southern Wild was not the movie I expected it to be. I thought it would be an adventure film, full of wonder and challenge and incredibly unrealistic accomplishments by a young girl that would leave viewers feeling that their life had been affirmed. It was not just a fluff feel good film however, it was a statement, a commentary, a critical look at the world as it is and I am not at all disappointed by this. Leaving the movie theater, my feelings were intense and I had a fierce sense that there was something that I should be doing. I ended up going to a Woody Guthrie tribute, which somehow seemed fitting. In any case, the friend I was with and I decided that it was a night of challenging the traditional United States narrative.

The film is beautiful and vivid, the story of a struggle yes, but the struggle of a poor community trying to maintain life in the face of prejudice, injustice, modern technology that rejects tradition and a natural world in crisis. The film is loaded. From parallels with Hurricane Katrina, to the walls that are constantly being built by nations trying to "protect" themselves, to global warming, it takes an honest look at the state of affairs in the world today and particularly those in the States. 

The story takes place in a fictitious Southern location, called the Bathtub, where Hush Puppy, our main character and the young girl who we follow throughout the film lives with her father. The Bathtub is located on the other side of a levee, which we are informed was built to keep the residents of the Bathtub on one side and those that built it on the other, to keep people out, to keep others safe and to maintain an inequality and injustice. The ice caps are melting and the Bathtub it is said will be underwater before long.

The people of the Bathtub are stubborn in their commitment to their home and even as some evacuate, many stay and we watch the world in which Hush Puppy lives, where no tears are shed at funerals and the ability to "beast" is applauded. We watch in one scene as Hush Puppy tears a crab apart with her bare hands as those surrounding her cheer her on and yell for her to "beast" the crab. We see the culture of these people, we see them teaching their children to be strong and doing the best that they can by them in the face of extreme poverty. I challenge anyone who makes the statement that the current state of youth is all the fault of their parents, instead of addressing any socio-economic or structural problems in our country to see this movie and tell me that Hush Puppy's father is not doing the best that he can.

The relationship between Hush Puppy and her father is one of the most heartbreaking parts of this movie. He does the best that he can, but with no support they struggle. And yet for all the struggle Hush Puppy's father is raising a strong, intelligent, emotional child, who knows that she is a part of the universe and that she must remain connected and right any piece that might be broken in order to create a world that is worth living in. We constantly see her listening, picking up animals to listen to their heartbeats and putting her head on people's chests to hear the rhythm of their lives.

This is a drastic difference from those across the levee. A mandatory evacuation is held of the Bathtub and all the residents forcibly removed by people they do not know. They are taken to a facility that Hush Puppy comments is not a prison, but feels like a fish bowl with no water. In this place modern medicine and technology is used to fix all the residents from the Bathtub and it is the first time we see these people without life. In an effort to keep them alive, those that do not understand them end up doing more damage then good.

I will not ruin the movie by writing through the entire plot, although it is tempting, there are so many delicately nuanced critiques of how people live, of how people deal with difference, of strength and life, of resistance. I appreciate that this movie addresses class and the enormous class struggle in the United States that is so often not admitted or acknowledged. I want there to be a sequel to this movie, of Hush Puppy in 20 years as a community leader, as someone trying to make change in a world that is so often hesitant to do so, as a strong woman telling her own story. That is the story I see here, a story about people finding their own power and using it to make the pieces of the universe they are connected to fit together even as forces in the world push to tear them apart.