BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD: Bioethics and Neorealism

Beasts of the Southern Wild is nothing short of a miracle in that it ever made it to the screen. It is an act of cultural, film industry and moral defiance. As a fantasy documentary, it crosses every genre expectation. The plot describes a culture where the humans run toward the neighborhood of the Bathtub, on a fictional Island in the Louisiana bayou, where the waters rise and engulf them over and over again.  The hero of the story is a six year old girl named Hush Puppy (Quvenzhane Wallis),  who has only a memory of a mother and whose father ( Dwight Henry) is a rough man who is nearing the end of his life.  With no sentiment, the culture of the Bathtub is simply survival not change. The story is unique in many ways, not the least of which is its film grammar.  Director-writer, Benh Zeitlin and writer Lucy Alibar have in their "oh so this century" take dared to cross cultures in every way.  Though mysticism is usually a cop-out for those who do not understand the culture being portrayed, this team defies that norm.
Beasts of the Southern Wild raises questions about beneficence, autonomy and justice. Is it ethical for people to live in a place we know will flood over and over again? Does a parent have the right to raise a child in a place which is so harsh in the name of maintenance of the child's culture when there are other options?  Where is the equipoise or justice in having the youngest members of a culture continually suffer the most burden and loss? Somehow we as viewers find ourselves cheering for the unconventional resolutions the film offers.

Created with non-professional actors, using location and historical stock footage, finally finding the visual story in the editing, Beasts of the Southern Wild is truly a new Neorealist film.  Like the Italian Neorealist films, its themes are the lives of poor and working, rural people, struggling to withstand massive oppression. In this case, the relentless environment of the Bathtub is the oppressor with a cameo by modern medicine as its cousin.   There are scenes reminiscent of Rossellini's Open City.  Tragic frailty, like in some Italian Neorealist work, is met with courage, strength and the hope inherent in children.  Enormous credit goes to Beasts of the Southern Wild for the nod to the relationship between social and ecological justice; a universal tale using only tools that could be mustered in the 21st century. 

Beasts of the Southern Wild. ( 35 mm)  directed by Benh Zeitlin. USA. Fox Searchlight. 2012.
Open City. (35 mm)  directed by Roberto Rossellini. Italy. Minerva Film Spa. 1945