More on ‘Beasts’

A friend sent me a “making-of” featurette for Beasts of the Southern Wild, the incredible first feature by Benh Zeitlin and the New Orleans film collective Court 13. (Correction to my review of the film: Cinereach is an independent-film granting organization that presumably helped fund Beasts, not the name of the collective.) The featurette shows director Zeitlin on location in the abandoned gas station that was the production office for Beasts. Some points of interest you learn in the clip: the floating pick-up truck bed that Hushpuppy and her father use to get around in was actually Zeitlin’s truck, which exploded and then had its remaining parts used in the film. Also, the first day of filming was the first day of the BP oil spill, bringing poignant truth to the apocalyptic feel of the film.

A few more comments on the film. In my review, I noted that some have interpreted the film as an ode to a kind of backwards libertarianism of the dispossessed. I think that fundamentally gets the story wrong. The film is about independence of spirit within a community of disenfranchised people, but not in the sense of rugged individualism. The community of the Bathtub is cut off from the rest of the world, and forgotten by it; their mistrustful reaction toward the institutions of “civilization” is therefore understandable. But the film’s conclusion is ultimately about the interwovenness of all living things and a kind of larger community of the cosmos.

Director Benh Zeitlin

A particularly hard-headed leftist interpretation of the film showed up in the Los Angeles Review of Books, by Kelly Candaele, in which the author actually refers to the denizens of the Bathtub as the “lumpen-proletariat,” and calls Hushpuppy an “anarchist anti-hero.” This is the kind of commentary that makes people hate liberals.

A rebuttal comes from Atlantic writer Silpa Kovvali.

Having lived in southern Louisiana for a whole two weeks, I can now rail at the coastal elite (Candaele in L.A., Kovvali in New York) for their failure to understand the Heartland of America. This feeling of independence and mistrust of institutions–including institutions that may help people out of poverty–combined with an infectious community spirit, is one of the many contradictions of Cajun/Creole culture. Zeitlin’s film is not a broader statement on politics; it’s just the way life is on the bayous.