Lovingly placed within Moon-themed “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a bit of Venus-infused magic that occurs in an unexpected setting.
Rambunctious Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) is being raised by her seriously ill and often erratically tempered father Wink (Dwight Henry) in a marginalized unprotected area of southern Louisiana called The Bathtub. She often calms herself by having imaginary conversations with the mother who abandoned them. During these chats, her mother substitute is a bright red shapeless athletic T-shirt, which Hushpuppy drapes over the back of a chair, as if it were a seated person.
Geographically Hushpuppy situates her mother at the source of flashing light emanating in the distance on the night horizon. Not one to back away from a challenge, she leads three of her young girl friends in a swimming expedition to reach the beacon. The group winds up being picked up by a small sailing vessel.
“This boat will take you exactly where you want to be,” the captain tells her, and then shares that the processed food he’s eating makes him feel “cohesive.” “I want to be cohesive,” echoes Hushpuppy, unconsciously alluding to the benefits of mother bonding.
The boat’s destination turns out to be a whorehouse – a floating catfish shack – called Elysian Fields. The sign exclaims that the place is full of Girls, Girls, Girls. Greek mythology and religion locates the Elysian Fields at the edge of the world – not unlike The Bathtub but minus the beauty – where heroes go after death to live happily.
Hushpuppy wanders around the establishment, while “(It Will Have to Do) Until the Real Thing Comes Along” plays in the background. In the kitchen, she meets up with a cook who blows the head right off an egg, cooks up some ’gator magic, and tells her, “One day everything on your plate will fall on the floor.” Hushpuppy is smitten. “You can take care of me,” she says.
Suddenly, Hushpuppy is dancing in the embrace of the motherly cook – a woman you want both to be and not to be the provider of the child’s bloodline. “This is my favorite thing: I can count all the times I been lifted on two fingers,” says the girl. The elevation is more than physical. The camera focuses in on all the girls, each blissfully dancing with and deeply ensconced in the arms of – at this moment – dirt-poor Louisiana’s finest vision of Beauty and the Feminine.
Culminating in Hushpuppy’s abandonment, once again, by a mother figure, these scenes are director Benh Zeitlin’s searing mashup of innocence and worldly hard knocks.
Rating: ♀+ ☽+ (Venus-plus, Moon-plus)