Top positive review
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on 1 January 2018
Bizarre film at first glance, rather amateurish and disjointed, the editing dodgy, the story itself teetering on the edge of incoherence. Yet it’s endearing, subversively beguiling. It has charm. Charisma too because of Hushpuppy, an adorable six-year-old girl who melts all before her (both hearts and ice).
Who is she? A tiny string-bean girl with a large frizzy afro, wild imagination and beautiful Creole voice whose musical sing-song cadences come straight out of the Louisiana bayou. No way to describe that voice. Has to be heard to be adored. In it there’s innocence and wonder, but also cocksure pride that the cosmos and Hushpuppy are one, or even that the cosmos was created so that Hushpuppy could be born into it in order to discover it, to make it real. The child’s view is simple yet touched by grandeur, a sense of unity and beauty that inspires awe. The world isn’t anything like Hushpuppy conceives it, yet you wind up loving her for seeing it as she does. You want her visions too. You want her to be right, just like you want the world to be right, to be a better place than it is, far more just and equitable and sane.
Hushpuppy is poor. So is Wink, her daddy. So is everybody else around her, all her neighbours — black, white, brown, mulatto, many colours of the rainbow. Poverty here is endemic, as is survival. They’ve been doing it for generations, living off next to nothing, off chickens, hogs, fish, crab and sometimes alligator for food; moonshine for drink; tattered garments for clothes; scraps and junk for shelter — old lumber, wooden crates, sheet metal, plastic tarps, rotten planks from beached fishing boats, baling wire, rusted car doors, whatever works to build their shacks. But they have each other, something called community, a thing that used to be common in the world but isn’t anymore. They live hand to mouth but look after one another, unlike the city dwellers whose jungle lives demand dog eat dog. So Hushpuppy’s life is bathed in two great things: the cosmos and love.
And speaking of bathing, which they do once in a while, they live in a place nicknamed The Bathtub. What’s that? A depression in the land below the levee, a coastal place of high risk due to global warming and rising tides. The rich live in the city beyond the levee, protected by the smugness of their money and engineering ingenuity. When the ice melts, as it will (as it’s melting right now), The Bathtub will flood and overflow. What then? Boats and logs and rafts, anything that floats, even old pick-up trucks with thick beams attached to them. People and animals and vegetables, just like with Noah’s ark. The water won’t kill them. They’ll find a way to survive, just as they always have. But if the levee breaks — look out! That’s something different for others. That’s disaster. That’s catastrophe. That’s death. The urban folk will drown.
Hushpuppy walks barefoot to the old school-house the way Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer used to at their school. Her teacher, Miss Bathsheba, teaches the children about nature and global warming. Do you know the ice caps are melting, children? Do you know what man is doing to God’s green Earth and to all his creatures great and small? They know because Miss Bathsheba has taught them. One day the ice caps will melt and the frozen aurochs in them will thaw. Then what? The aurochs will wake up and be hungry. What are aurochs? Great beasts like mammoths. Big tusks. Ferocious temperaments. Darwin says the strong survive, so they are Darwin’s beasts. Even the people in The Bathtub will have no chance. The aurochs will conquer the world like man once did. They will devour things but they won’t poison the land, sea and sky as man does now.
They are coming. Miss Bathsheba says so. So does the sea. Hushpuppy knows. She writes things down on cardboard boxes. Why? For scientists of the future, for the wise or lucky ones who survive. What does she write? She writes Hushpuppy was here. She saw what happened.
Hushpuppy is a girl but she’s also a state of mind in Hushpuppy’s mind. There in that mind Hushpuppy looks at a character called Hushpuppy and talks about her, as we do, in the third person. Both Hushpuppies are anchored in their homes, one in The Bathtub, the other in the cosmos.
As stated, the cosmos makes sense to Hushpuppy because it brought Hushpuppy into it. Was there a cosmos before Hushpuppy? We and Hushpuppy can’t picture it, just as we can’t picture nothingness, the nothingness that existed before the Big Bang created time and space and matter. The cosmos gains consciousness through Hushpuppy, looks at itself through her. The stars in the firmament are truly there because Hushpuppy is here to see them. Miss Bathsheba says stars are other suns, light and warmth for other worlds. Hushpuppy believes her. She believes everything the teacher teaches because Miss Bathsheba is wise. It’s why her teacher lives in the Bathtub, not the city. She needs no levee to live. Education and wisdom are better, proved time and again by what Miss Bathsheba says and what Hushpuppy sees and confirms. Things make sense because Hushpuppy is here. Someday future scientists will know it too.
Papa Wink is not well. He has fits and delirium tremors. His heart is bad too because he drinks too much. He worries a lot and loses his temper often. He doesn’t laugh and smile. Hushpuppy looks at him in wonder sometimes because he doesn’t wonder about the stars and sky the way Miss Bathsheba does. In fact, one night during a violent rain storm he got angry at the storm and sky. He took his shotgun into the rain and pointed it at the sky and moon. Then he fired. Not once, but at least three times. Bang, bang, bang! The thunder was noisy, and so was Wink, her drunken, violent daddy.
Where is mama? Who knows? Hushpuppy thinks about her but can’t see a face or even hear a voice. Mama is a ghost, not a memory. Hushpuppy is haunted by her. Papa says Hushpuppy happened because papa loved mama. So Hushpuppy was made by love? Yes, she learns. And the cosmos? Must be the same, she reckons. Something or someone called God loves colours and beauty and grandeur. Like love, the cosmos is real. Hushpuppy knows it. Miss Bathsheba taught her it.
What happens when the storm comes, when the water rises? The people float, they survive like Noah and the animals did. But much of the world must die. Then, when the waters recede, the aurochs will come, just as Miss Bathsheba said they would. They are hungry and destructive. Frozen in the ice, they’ve been waiting a long time to eat. What happens when Hushpuppy meets the aurochs? Oh, you have to see this for yourself! It is called the climax.
None of us knows where the cosmos comes from. Some say a black hole, others from a multiverse, our cosmic mother. We want to know but can’t figure it out. We are too puny, too cerebrally feeble to know. If even Miss Bathsheba doesn’t know, how can we? Hushpuppy admits it.
But Hushpuppy knows some important things. For example, Hushpuppy exists. So does the earth. So does the sun and all the other suns. So does the cosmos. She watches it looking at her, the stars twinkling and winking at her. Is this why Daddy is named Wink? When he was young like Hushpuppy, did he think and see as she does? Did Wink know the universe was made for him too? Did his eyes shine as Hushpuppy’s do, reflecting the light of the stars back to themselves? Is that why they wink? Is that their signal to us, a signal that says, “I see you. I see your light or my own light shining back to me”? Who can say? Probably Miss Bathsheba knows.
Before the film ends Hushpuppy tells us this:
“When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces. When I look too hard, it goes away. But when it all goes quiet, I see they are right here. I see that I’m a little piece of a big, big universe. And that makes things right.”
In its strange, offbeat, eccentric, amateurish, low budget, DIY, ramshackle way, the film is a masterpiece, proof that the art of cinema is not dead yet, not yet devoured by the aurochs we are bound to unleash on the world through our greed, arrogance and recklessness. Get yourself an ark and pray to the god of your choice as the waters rise.