2012 is a year I will never forget for many reasons, and luckily some beautiful films this year were extremely impactful this year for personal reasons. Beasts of the Southern Wild is the one film that caught me off guard with how deeply it would affect me. My boyfriend, film critic Robert Levin saw its first screening last year at Sundance and called me afterwards, immediately telling me how amazing it was and that I had to see it. I agreed that yes, it sounded interesting, but I wasn’t going to let myself get caught up in the Sundance excitement for a film I didn’t want to be disappointed by.
Months passed and I continued to hear about the film until in August while in
traveling with my boyfriend I finally got the chance to see the movie. There are
a few times in my life when I can recall everything surrounding the event and
experience of seeing a movie—where I sat, what the theater was like, if I ate a
snack, what I did that day, etc—and Beasts proved to be one of those powerful
film experiences for me. I went in with as open a mind as possible, trying to
combat the buzz with a healthy amount of skepticism.
A few minutes into the film, I knew it was something different. The voiceovers are powerful and undetectable, the characters are different but relatable, the storytelling was beautiful but unique. And especially of all, the young actress, or actually untrained actress, Quvenzhane Wallis, was absolutely captivating. This is a film not only about people living trapped in “The Bathtub,” but one that I could relate to, or really anyone with a father.
At the time I saw Beasts, my father was home from his six month hospital stay and obviously unbeknownst to me, three months later he would be gone. The relationship between Hushpuppy and her father is not one that exactly mirrored my relationship with my dad, but there are obvious similarities that hit deep within me, awakening childhood fears of my father passing away when I was younger. The truth is, no matter when you lose a parent it’ll always be too early. You’re never ready. I hate when people say, “At least he’s not suffering and at peace.” He didn’t want to leave. He enjoyed every minute with his family no matter what.
My first memory is in the hospital with my father after he suffered a heart attack. The bed was taller than I was and I remember being told that daddy was going to be okay, but being extremely unsure what was going on. Growing up, I had nightmares of sacrificing myself to save my father, catching him when he fell (which literally would happen years later) and other such traumas. Hushpuppy may appear on the outside to be very different from everything about my childhood, but watching her was like watching myself as a young girl—afraid to let go, but trying to be the hero for her father.
My immediate family made huge sacrifices to care for my dad in his last year, but we would’ve done it forever. We hoped for that just as Hushpuppy would’ve stayed wherever her father was, in the Bathtub or out of it. My favorite quote from Hushpuppy in film, and one that sums up my life over the past year, is: “Everybody loses the thing that made them. The brave men stay and watch it happen. They don’t run.” It’s not easy to care for someone who can’t care for themselves, it’s painful to see someone wilt away. The image of Hushpuppy facing the beasts and not backing down is so powerful and moving. She’s looking death in the eye in her own way and saying, I understand, and I’m not afraid. I’d like to think my family did that this past year.
Beasts is beautiful because it is simultaneously simple and complex, easily relatable and precise, dirty and gorgeous. Beasts is the one film of 2012 I will never forget because my year was the exact same thing—every moment with my father was not only sublime because I knew to treasure it, but it was sad to know meant one less interaction, one less memory with him. I normally like to make a personal top 10 film list of the year, but felt this year should be more personal. I wish I got to watch Beasts with my father, but ironically, I’m not sure he would’ve fully appreciated it. He was more of a cowboys and Indians kinda guy.