Despite the flurry of movies and television shows filmed in the New Orleans area over the past decade, it remains a rare thing to encounter a production that truly captures the heart and essence of the Crescent City. With only HBO’s Tremé joining it in this rare territory, Beasts of the Southern Wild nearly stands alone in this regard.
Set in the “Bathtub,” a marshland community on the edge of the ocean in a parallel-reality Louisiana, Beasts follows a precocious young girl names Hushpuppy and her father through a series of trials, sharing her view of the world with the audience along the way.
An imaginative and whimsical art direction provides an appropriate fantastic, otherworldly aesthetic for a story told through the eyes of a five-year-old. Thanks to excellent performances by an almost entirely-local cast, a myriad of cultural and linguistic details come forth from characters who are authentically South Louisianan in soul.
It is both fantasy and reality, expertly knit together.
Many of the facts that ring true come in the form of expositions and one-liners Hushpuppy shares with the audience. For one, the Bathtub does have more holidays than the whole rest of the world.
And these holidays, just like the heart of the film, center on people spending time with and caring about those around them. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to make friends in NOLA, I would offer up the intensity and warmth of the community relationships presented in Beasts. A key piece, as most anyone around here will tell you, is sharing a meal together. On a very regular basis.
It is here that the Bathtub and New Orleans very much become one. After years of memories and life spent together developing community, a location grows beyond a simple geographic fact. It’s no longer simply an array of economic and statistical measures, ranked among hundreds of other cities and locations across the country and around the world… it’s home.
For both the Bathtub and New Orleans, many man-made threats must be dealt with for survival. But there is no questioning the intensity with which both Hushpuppy and natives of Southeast Louisiana are determined to press on.
Just like NOLA, Beasts of the Southern Wild can be overwhelming in intensity the first time around, but knows precisely how to connect deep down with your soul.