Posted on January 11th, 2013
hen Scott suggested that we stop Beasts of the Southern Wild somewhere around the midway point last night I was so mad I wanted to spit.
His request was reasonable enough. It was getting late and it wasn’t like the movie was going anywhere. As I stomped upstairs to brush my teeth into a foaming, frothy mess—a symptom of rabies in much of the animal kingdom—I promised myself that I would responsibly examine my overly-emotional response in an equally-reasonable manner.
In the morning.
Upon relatively dispassionate reflection, I think the experience of watching Beasts of the Southern Wild is not unlike dreaming to the viewer. Ergo (not to be confused with Argo, another newly Oscar-nominated feature),Scott’s ridiculous suggestion to suspend our viewing of the film was not unlike waking someone from a deep, dreaming sleep. I don’t know about you, but I hate it when people (even the little ones, I’m just trying to be honest about myself here) wake me up in the act of not being awake. It’s disruptive and disorienting and rude and I have already mentioned that I hate it, right?
It’s not that I’m even worried about what happens to little Hushpuppy. I’m not. She is pure will. Director Benh Zeitlin might have helped to write her, but I’m not even sure he would have the power to force that baby out of her fictional life off the coast of Louisiana if they put it down on paper. That’s how vital she is.
But, really, how on earth could my husband be disconnected enough from the wild current of events in the film to be able to turn it off? Was he not watching the same movie I was?
Then I had this thought: maybe the difference is that I’m Southern.
Between Beasts and the book my sister gave me for Christmas (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; get you some if you haven’t), I feel like I’ve been drifting in and out of those humid environs. Not every Southern experience is the same. Far from it. Depending on your race, your gender, your income or how long it takes you to get to a beach, the Southern experience can legitimately be called diverse.
Conversely, if you’re from the South, some things resonate regardless of precisely where you came up. The food, definitely. The music, maybe. And this vague but definite longing for some part of it—or even an idea of it—even when you’re not supposed to be there anymore.
Over the weekend, my friend and I talked ourselves all the way back to the South from our barstools out here in the desert like we never fail to do. Because for those of us numbered among the vast Southern diaspora, there’s also the shared experience of swimming up from wherever you first found yourself there to wherever you are making your life now.
That’s what made turning Beasts off so difficult—I mean, outside of the fact that I’m going to go out on a limb at the 52 minute mark and call it a masterpiece. Even underwater, dangerous and drowning—in all likelihood, dying—a Southerner can hear the South calling to them. And it’s no fault of anyone’s that Scott can’t.
(Not even his.)∗