Beasts of the Southern Wild is a fairy tale. It never completely comes out and says it, but obvious themes of a mysterious upbringing, a missing parent, larger than life beasts and an all around tinge of everything being slightly off-kilter, lend credence towards this type of story. The thing that’s great about how it’s deployed is that it’s not a full tilt barrage of fantastical elements, but rather they’re woven into the very real and gritty environment of a bayou reminiscent of the New Orleans area. The film gains from being able to ground the seriousness of the storm and the perils of the people living there, but also heighten it through these fantastical elements that surround these people for better or worse. It’s a thin line between reality and imagination, you never truly know if this is taking place on our earth or if it’s taking place somewhere else entirely, like some kind of supernatural realm. The film gives evidence to both sides, either could be plausible, but I like to think this is some other world, where these elements aren’t just a apart of a little girl’s imagination, but are intrinsic in the environment. Or maybe their secluded little bayou area is within our world, but within their walls magical things happen, and large creatures co-exist with the human population.
Hushpuppy is exactly like one of those child protagonists from folklore or a passed down story. A little girl immersed in this larger than life environment, she has a handle on a few things, but is still very much at the mercy of a great deal that is larger than her. Growing up around this, everything seems normal, the way she lives, her hard-loving father, the various characters that surround her and the mystical nature surrounding her mother. Someone so beautiful and all-being that water would boil in her presence and she could easily dispatch of swamp creatures wearing nothing but a white pair of underwear and a shotgun (my kind of girl). Later on when Hushpuppy meets her mother, or again is it really her, is it a figment of her imagination, or maybe just someone who looks like her. It ultimately doesn’t matter, and you can take it as you wish, Hushpuppy is fearless in a lot of the physical realm, but still yearned for this connection with her mother. A closure on this end, her loose dangling thread, allowed Hushpuppy to take care of her own, knows what has to be done now and has the strength of mind and family to fulfill her fathers wishes.
The film is short and sweet, and like the best tales it tells its story and gets out. The short running time is no detriment to the quality, as the reason fairy tales and the like are so popular is they demand thought and provide several different ways of seeing for the viewer. Parents will take something different from the film than their children will, it could be about the power of family or of imagination. Beasts of the Southern Wild succeeds by straddling a line between the horrors of our day and the wonders of the fantastical, a modern fairy tale.