A lot of warm words have already been said about the Beasts of the Southern Wild directed by Benh Zeitlin, especially regarding its main protagonist Quvenzhané Wallis who was nominated for Oscar in the Best Actress category. Promised Land by Gus Van Sant starring Matt Damon was also nominated to Oscars in several categories. As it seems the subject of environmental protection has finally reached Hollywood this season.
Filmed in Louisiana, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a powerful fantasy tale told from the perspective of a 6-year-old girl called Hushpuupy. It is almost inappropriately positive and leaves the viewer with the feeling that everything is possible if only you are determined enough to try.
The story might seem to be a fairy-tale while in fact it bears a strong reference to the real world. The fictional island of the film known to its residents as the Bathtub, was inspired by isolated and independent fishing communities which existence is nowadays threatened by erosion, hurricanes, and rising sea levels caused by the global warming. The most rapidly eroding Isle de Jean Charles is located in Louisiana’s Terrebonne Parish, where the pictures were taken.
We know from the beginning of the movie that the island is going to disappear, flooded by the raising water levels. However, it is not the whole picture. The island is also being sacrificed to protect the mainland from which it had been separated by a damm that is supposed to secure the mainland from flooding. Despite numerous warnings and orders, the inhabitants of the island refuse to leave their homes and keep fighting for them. The movie touches, therefore, on a subject of global environmental change, but also on the choice of securing our civilized world and cities, sacrificing less “valuable” or economically unprofitable places and disregarding the people living there.
In this adverse, world a father is trying to raise his daughter in harmony with the universe (Hushpuppy: “I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right”.), aware and respectful for nature and environment (Hushpuppy: “Everything in life has its heartbeat”), and prepare her, at the same time, for the difficulties she will need to face and tackle in life (Wink: “My only purpose in life is to teach her how to make it.”).
It can be read as a sort of environmental version of the American dream in which the hero, despite all the difficulties and disadvantages like poverty, overcomes its limitations to become something better in the adverse world. Moreover, the script is full of life wisdom coming out from the mouth of a little girl and wonderful pictures.
Another Oscar nominee addressing the problem of exploiting the environment for profit or out of necessity (depends on the side you are on) is Gus Van Sant’s acclaimed Promised Land.
A company extracting natural gas has its employees come to a small town and lure the local farmers impoverished by the crisis with the possibility of millions in profits if they let their land for gas extraction. The company’s true intentions are disclosed when it comes out that it was paying not only its employees acting on their behalf but also the environmental NGO whose representatives appeared in town. The staged fight between the two was doomed to be lost by the latter. In the course of action, the bad guy (Mat Damon) turns out to actually be a good guy and … gets the girl! A must see if you fancy this kind of educational entertainment.
To sum up, even though touching on similar subjects, the movies are incomparable in the quality they represent. My heart definitely beats stronger for the Beasts.