September 5, 2012

inspired: beasts of the southern wild

Dreamy. Magical. Shimmering. Raw. Intimate. Heavy. Courageous. Universal. Light. Personal. Heartbreaking. Soaring.   I realize the range of these adjectives, and also some of their contradictions. But these words themselves were the best I could do to conjure up my sentiments about this film and all of its achievements and remarkable qualities.

We first heard about the film "Beasts of the Southern Wild" many months ago, from our friend Bob, who had the privilege of seeing the film at this year's Sundance Film Festival. His high recommendations made us eager to catch the film as soon as it came to theaters in Chicago, and we went to see it for Ryan's birthday in July. The film tells the story of a little girl named Hushpuppy, who lives with her father in the swampland of Southern Louisiana. It is a difficult movie to summarize or to compare to anything else I have seen, because it was simultaneously jarring, uncomfortable, lyrical and gorgeous. For me, it ranks among the most emotionally evocative and thought provoking film experiences I have ever had. The story and the characters reached deeply into my heart and connected in unexpected ways. 
(Image: Museum Views,
We went to see the film without too much sense of what our experience would be. I believe this is the best way to see most films, but especially this one. I am grateful I did not come in with more expectations, because it resulted in my being available to the range of emotions and experiences I encountered. After my first viewing, I was deeply moved and overwhelmed by the passion and depth of its storytelling and characters. Images and dialogue from the film haunted my consciousness, lingering at the edges of my brain throughout my daily routines in the weeks to follow, coming to mind at the most random moments. I went to see it a second time a couple of weeks ago, something I rarely do, but it felt necessary for this film, because of the way I could not shake its story from my mind. And what I found was that I loved all the same qualities, and perhaps could take them in from a slightly wider vantage point, but with similar lasting effects. The deep passion and ache of the conflicts and contrasts of love and pain which are captured in this film are, for me, its greatest gift.

Hushpuppy's character spoke directly into my heart as I learned about life alongside her, and experienced its brutal and glorious ups and downs, with great credit to Quevenzhané Wallis, the little girl who performed the role beautifully. Here are some of my favorite lines from Hushpuppy:

"The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece, the entire universe will get busted... If you can fix the broken piece, everything can go right back."

"When you're small, you gotta fix what you can." 

"When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces."

"Daddy said the first time she looked at me, it made her heart beat so big she thought it would blow up. That's why she swam away."

I long to write like this. I dream of one day achieving such simple, pure emotion and raw, startling truth in my characters and plot. The contrasts presented in the portrayal of their longing and fulfillment, love and hate, comfort and pain, honesty and falsehood, joy and despair, fantasy and reality: these have been, and will continue to be, a remarkable inspiration in my own art.

(Learn more about the film "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and its creators here. Hear more of Bob's film recommendations on here.)

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