“Buffet of the Universe”: Deeper Themes in Beasts of the Southern Wild
Benh Zeitlin’s 2012 film Beasts of the Southern Wild uses the story of a rural community in Southern Louisiana to evoke themes such as classism and community ties. Zeitlin is successful in reminding us of our connectedness with each other and the world around us, and the Americana aesthetic of the film reflects our heroes’ resiliency in the face of destruction. At stake in this aesthetic and the exploration of these politically charged themes is a commentary on how we can connect to each other across racial, economic, and social divides.
The community at the focus of the film, known affectionately by its residents as “the Bathtub”, would appear to be a population in the depths of poverty. But to the colorful collection of inhabitants, it’s heaven on earth. Everything they have is salvaged, built by hand, caught, or grown. In opposition to the scrappy environment of the Bathtub, an industrialized city lies adjacent to the waters that the community sits on. The placement of the city is deliberate, with a levee keeping the water, and the residents of the Bathtub, out. Though the levee doesn’t break in the path of what it was intentionally built to keep out (the storm), it is destroyed by what it symbolically keeps out (the people of the Bathtub). The distinction between the groups is revealed early, in a scene where Hushpuppy and Wink ride along the levee in their dilapidated boat. “Ain’t that ugly?” Wink asks Hushpuppy. The looming smoke stacks past the wall further indicate the juxtaposition between the utopian society of the Bathtub and the dismal dystopia beyond the levee. The community is resentful of the higher class that “cut them off”, going so far as to break the levee to drain the damaging salt water out of the Bathtub and into the city.
These actions argue that there needs to be a change in the societal perspectives of the “lower class” by emphasizing the conditions and...
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