Saturday, March 2, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

I watched Beasts of the Southern Wild again last night, my second time in as many nights. Wondering idly whether anyone else got out of it what I got out of it, I looked at some reviews just now. I really shouldn't have. It's like they were all written by the villains of the movie.

Whether patronizingly praising or just plain hateful, everybody whose review I read seems to think this was a movie about abject poverty. It's not. It's not about "overcoming poverty" or "enduring poverty" or "finding beauty in poverty" or "facing the crushing reality of poverty." It's not. It is NOT squalor porn. This is not How the Other Half Lives, Wetland Edition. That's not the point. It's merely the setting. Poor people have stories, too.

It was a story about alienation and separation and bootstrapping independence. It was about legacy. It was about becoming self-reliant through the realization that there are two kinds of people who will help you: the ones who love you but can't be counted on, and the ones who will tenaciously do you harm out of some philanthropic sense that it's "for your own good." It was about coming of age, individuating, asserting your own power. It was about resisting oppression. And none of that shit is peculiar to folks who forage for building materials and kill their own food.

It's just so jarring to me to see the shells middle-class people build around themselves to block out awareness of any way of life other than their own. When Hush Puppy's daddy went on about how good they had it and how much the drylanders' lives sucked, he wasn't crying sour grapes. He wasn't reassuring himself. He meant it.

(spoiler alert)

I saw commentators going on like they were all traumatized at seeing life in the Bathtub. They weren't even prepared to see the film. It's like they've got a caul over their eyes that needs to be peeled away first, a protective shell of unawareness they've built around themselves. The Bathtub wasn't the scary part. That wasn't the horror. That was home. The shelter was the horror. Like Hush Puppy said, "It didn't look like a prison. It looked more like a fish tank without any water." Think what that means. What's a fish in a tank with no water? It's contained, domesticated, controlled, but with the essence of life drained away. The tank's only contents is a helpless, dying creature on full display, deprived of even the basic dignity of privacy. It's the opposite of what I was talking about in Relearning Humanity. I about cried when I saw her standing there in that little blue dress, that grouchy white lady natterin' on about who-gives-a-shit what. That dress might as well have been a straightjacket and a hood.

It reminded me of Russell Means writing about when the Sioux were finally "pacified." One of the most traumatic parts of it for those people was that the government made them live in square houses. So much of their culture, their worldview, their religion, even their language, was built around their experience of living in tipis, and here they were confined to these wooden boxes, these coffins the Army called cabins. Where they had roamed the plains to follow their food as far back as anyone could remember, there were now fences, with the food just pacing around inside, waiting to die, itself like a fish in a tank with no water. And in generations to come, the children would be shipped off to boarding schools where they'd be punished for speaking their native language, sent off to jobs in big cities far away from their people upon reaching adulthood. It was an act of cultural and spiritual genocide. The government let the bodies live but tried to kill off the people living inside those bodies.

And none of those folks writing about all the trash and mud and bad parenting they had to look at in this movie are ever gonna get that.

[Edit: Ah, but this blogger does.]

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