Beasts of the Southern Wild Summary

Benh Zeitlin (film)

Beasts of the Southern Wild

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Beasts of the Southern Wild Summary

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An adaptation of Lucy Alibar’s one-act play Juicy and Delicious, Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), a fantastical drama film written and directed by Benh Zeitlin and co-adapted with Alibar, initially premiered at the Cannes and Traverse City Film Festivals. Set in a destitute but happy and connected community in the Louisiana bayou, it depicts an allegorical account of climate change at a time in the indeterminate future, following the six-year-old protagonist Hushpuppy as she searches for her parents. The film resulted in many nominations and awards, including an Academy Award nomination for Quvenzhane Wallis, the nine-year-old actress who plays Hushpuppy, and the youngest ever nominee for the Best Actress award.

The film begins as a storm approaches the Bathtub, an insular bayou community in southern Louisiana that is separated from the mainland by a large levee. Hushpuppy lives with her sick and hotheaded father, Wink, who is, nonetheless, very protective and loving. They are optimistic about their future even after hearing about the looming storm. At school, the community’s children receive a lesson from Miss Bathsheba about the release of aurochs, prehistoric tusked beasts, from the earth’s quickly melting ice caps.

When Hushpuppy returns home, she notices her father is missing. After calling him several times to no avail, he finally arrives wearing a hospital gown and identification bracelet. They leave the house and argue in the bayou about his disappearance, Hushpuppy being unable to understand her father’s sickness, and Wink viewing Hushpuppy as impetuous. Hushpuppy storms home alone. She turns on the gas burning stove, intentionally setting fire to their ramshackle house. She hides in a cardboard box as the fire blazes around her, escaping just before she is harmed. Outside, her father chases her. He catches her and slaps her in the face; she responds by hitting him in the chest and saying that she hopes that he will die. He falls over, suffering an unknown medical problem. Realizing that she has misused her power, she runs further from the fire. When she returns, Wink is gone. Next, the film briefly cuts to a scene in the Arctic, portraying the frozen aurochs floating in the ocean after detaching from the larger ice shelves.

The storm gets closer, and the residents of the Bathtub begin to flee. Wink appears again on the side of the road, hobbling weakly. He locates Hushpuppy and brings her to a house where he intends to barricade them inside to protect against the storm. Noticing that Hushpuppy is afraid and saddened for the future of her home, he fires a gun at the sky as if to inflict pain on the storm. They survive the storm and spend the following morning looking through the town for useful debris and survivors.

When the storm fully subsides, the Bathtub community celebrates and immediately starts rebuilding their society. However, their situation is permanently damaged by the surge of saltwater from the ocean, which has leaked into their freshwater system. Wink decides to solve the problem by destroying the levee to drain away the water. He recruits a small group to put dynamite at a juncture in the levee wall and blow it apart. They succeed with the help of an alligator gar; immediately, the saltwater recedes. The police arrive and, seeing the state of the community, instate a forced evacuation, relocating them to an emergency shelter further inland on the Louisiana mainland. Wink finally receives surgical treatment for his illness, but it fails, leaving him worse off. Most of the evacuated Bathtub residents escape the shelter and return home.

Afraid to lose her father and be left orphaned, Hushpuppy looks for her mother, who disappeared years ago. She swims out to a makeshift boat and embarks with her friends to a floating bar called the Elysian Fields. There, she meets a chef whom she associates with her memory of her mother. When the woman doesn’t recognize her, Hushpuppy insists that it is her. She offers for Hushpuppy to stay with her, but Hushpuppy declines, returning to her father instead. On their way back to the Bathtub, Hushpuppy and her friends run into the aurochs. Hushpuppy stands up to them, and they leave her to walk away unharmed. At home, Hushpuppy finds Wink on his deathbed and says farewell. After hearing his heartbeat one final time, she constructs a funeral pyre and sets it on fire. The remaining residents of the Bathtub join her in observing it burn.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a film about the struggle of innocence and childhood to cope with disaster, and disenfranchised communities to make sense of forces and systems outside of their control. It frames its allegory within important contemporary discourses about climate change, poverty, and injustice, ultimately extolling the virtues of community building and compassion.