Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wildly Offensive

After my friends and I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild, I was the only one who reacted negatively to the movie, and in fact some of my friends think it is a great movie.  I hated it more than pretty much any other movie I have seen, so I guess I will try to explain why.  I should mention, though, that I saw it a while ago and my memory is somewhat hazy.  I may misstate some elements of the movie as a result.

The movie tells the story of a girl and her father, living in what looks like a dystopian near-future Louisiana.  Civilization has withdrawn behind vast levees, but people still live on the land outside the levees, in a sort of poor rural environment.  They have abandoned much of civilization.  They are quasi-literate (if that), emotionally unstable, superstitious, prone to violence, drunkenness, and crime.  They are the kind of people who ignore evacuation orders and don't follow medical advice, and then have to be rescued from their own poverty and ignorance at significant taxpayer expense.

In short, they are walking, breathing stereotypes of poor Americans, and the two main characters are also black, to kick things up a notch.  It is pretty clear that they are the "beasts" of the title, that we are supposed to see these impoverished black people as animals.  They are like the proverbial grasshopper, getting drunk while the storm blows in, knowing that the industrious ants will have no choice but to save them from their own laziness, drunkenness, and bad decision-making.

This negative portrayal of poor people is just disgusting.  Despicable.  It reminds me of the title of an Onion video:  "Sale of BET to White Supremacist Group Results in No Changes to Programming."  I'm sure the people who made Beasts of the Southern Wild are closer to the BET end of the spectrum than the white supremacist end, but if you replaced them with white supremacists it would result in no change to the movie.

Now, you might think that it would be acceptable to depict poor black people living like animals, so long as their embrace of nature and their rejection of sterile, ugly "civilization" are portrayed sympathetically.  I'm not sure how I would feel about a movie like that, but in any case the filmmakers took a very different approach.  Far and away the most evil thing we see in the movie is the father's decision to destroy one of the levees that protect civilization from the floodwaters.  The movie doesn't actually show the resulting death and destruction, but there is no way the audience can sympathize with this monster.  I even remember the characters being cheerful as they destroy the lives of countless innocent people, but my memory is not so good and I might be wrong about that.

(It is also hard to sympathize with the father's decision to deprive his daughter of books, medicine, etc., and to expose her to the dangers of life outside the levee, but maybe he doesn't know any better.  After all, he's, you know.  One of those.)

The movie ends with a bizarre homage to a Budweiser commercial, which depicts the iconic Clydesdale horses making the trek from St. Louis to New Jersey (or possibly Staten Island?) to bow down to the victims and heroes of September 11.  The movie re-creates the scene, substituting giant primordial aurochs for the horses.  It is a highly bizarre reference—baffling, really.  In both cases, mass murder is followed by a gesture of respect from nature, but in the commercial the respect is directed to the victims, while in the movie the respect is directed to the perpetrators.  I never would have guessed that, as between a widely-hailed independent film and a beer commercial, the beer commercial would have the vastly better moral sense.


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