Story

Cut off from the world by a massive levee bank is the Louisiana bayou town of Bathtub. Here six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) lives with her father Wink (Dwight Henry).

Hushpuppy is an inquisitive and intrepid child, who spends her time walking around, picking up all sorts of creatures and looking for signs of life by listening to their heartbeats. Hushpuppy believes that everything in the universe is connected and that all the pieces have to fit together just right for it to work properly.

While he loves Hushpuppy deeply, Wink is an alcoholic. He has unpredictable mood swings and spends much of his time in a semi-drunken state. Wink becomes terminally ill and a massive storm strikes, flooding the community of Bathtub. The salty flood waters not only destroy property but the environment itself, leaving the people of Bathtub without a way to survive. Hushpuppy’s world falls apart.

As Hushpuppy’s life begins to spiral out of control she calls on her imagination to face her fears. She also finds the strength to endure the death of her father and to live life beyond the bayou.

Themes

Death of a parent; alcoholism; natural disaster; global warming; abandonment

Violence

This movie shows the physical and verbal abuse of a small child, some reckless behaviour resulting in destruction and injury, and occasional action violence and peril. For example:

  • In a couple of scenes, Hushpuppy’s father shouts at her in anger, threatening violence (‘I’m going to bust your arse’). She runs away in fear.
  • A hurricane hits the community of Bathtub, with wind and rain battering the people’s makeshift shacks, ripping off iron roofing and so on. Hushpuppy takes refuge in her father’s shack as the storm rips it apart. She calls out in fear for her mother. Wink is in a crazed, drunken state. He runs around outside in the storm firing his shotgun into the air and shouting insults at the storm. The following morning Wink uses an axe to chop his way through their iron roof. There are devastating images of storm damage and major flooding. Houses, property and the local environment have been destroyed.
  • In a flashback scene, a woman shoots an alligator with a shotgun. She points the gun at the alligator and fires the gun. Blood sprays across the front of her clothes and legs.
  • In a clandestine raid, Wink and two other men use dynamite to blow up a levee bank. The explosion hurls Hushpuppy and the others into the water (there are images of Hushpuppy sinking under the water). Debris falls all around. Hushpuppy and the others aren’t hurt.
  • Hushpuppy throws a tantrum, hurling and smashing things. To encourage Hushpuppy to release her anger, her father throws things around as well. The tantrum turns into a type of pillow fight.
  • Following the storm and flood, the residents of Bathtub are ordered to leave their homes. When they refuse, government officials forcibly remove them. Hushpuppy and Wink barricade themselves in their home, shouting and throwing objects at the officials. The residents of Bathtub are taken to a temporary shelter and hospital where they riot and escape in a stolen bus. At one point in the hospital, Wink attacks a doctor before he is physically restrained by hospital orderlies.
  • Hushpuppy gets angry and punches Wink in the stomach. Wink clutches his stomach and falls to the ground unconscious. Hushpuppy thinks she has ‘broken’ her father, and she runs off in a state of panic and distress.

Content that may disturb children

Under 8

In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, this movie has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under eight years. For example:

  • Six-year-old Hushpuppy lives by herself in a makeshift cabin. She uses a large butane torch to light a gas stove. In one scene, the stove explodes and the kitchen catches on fire. Hushpuppy hides beneath a cardboard box as the flames engulf her house. When Wink breaks into the burning house searching for her, she refuses to come out from under her box, fearing her father’s anger. She manages to escape unhurt just in the nick of time.
  • When Hushpuppy confronts an emotional crisis, she imagines her fears as fierce and scary extinct beasts called aurochs. One scene shows aurochs rampaging through the community of Bathtub and crashing through shacks. Another scene shows live aurochs savagely eating dead aurochs. In one scene a herd of fierce aurochs chases Hushpuppy and a small group of children. Hushpuppy triumphs over her fears when she faces the chief auroch and stares him down.
  • In the aftermath of the storm, bloated rotting carcases of a cow, fish and birds float in the flood waters. One scene shows the image of a dead animal that has been half eaten by scavengers.
  • As a way of coping with the loss of her mother, Hushpuppy makes a mannequin. It’s a chair with an old basketball singlet draped across it and a face drawn on paper stuck to the back.
  • After being abandoned by Wink for several says, Hushpuppy finds him dressed in a hospital gown walking around in a field in a dazed and confused way. When Hushpuppy approaches Wink, he shouts at her in anger. Hushpuppy runs away confused and frightened.
  • In one emotionally intense scene, Hushpuppy realises Wink is terminally ill. She tells him that she knows what’s happening. She says, ‘You think I don’t know. You think I can’t see’.
  • Wink coughs blood onto the ground. Later he coughs blood while in bed.
  • Wink tells Hushpuppy that he is dying and can’t take care of her any more. He says she isn’t to be sad about things dying.
  • In an emotionally intense scene, Hushpuppy lies next to Wink with her head on his chest as she listens to his dying heartbeat. Tears run down Hushpuppy’s face when he dies. A later scene shows his body in a makeshift boat, which is set on fire and pushed out into the water. 

From 8-13

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the images and scenes mentioned above. 

Over 13

Younger children in this age group might also be disturbed by some of the images and scenes mentioned above. 

Sexual references

This movie has occasional low-level sexual references. For example:

  • A woman says that a man tried to touch her breasts.
  • Wink asks Hushpuppy if he ever told her the story of her conception. The scene shows a flashback image of Hushpuppy’s mother and tells the story of how she killed an alligator to protect Wink. Four minutes after Hushpuppy’s mother shot the alligator, Hushpuppy popped into the world.
  • A waterside bayou brothel has a sign that says ‘Catfish Shack. Girls, Girls, Girls’. 

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

This movie shows some use of substances. For example:

  • Most of the adult characters in the movie display alcoholic behaviour, and many continuously drink various types of alcohol. They appear in various states of drunkenness.
  • Wink pours himself a drink of moonshine and then one for Hushpuppy. He says, ‘This counts for a whole bunch of things’. Hushpuppy drinks it and makes a face. 

Nudity and sexual activity

This movie shows some implied and partial nudity. For example:

  • In a couple of scenes, six-year-old Hushpuppy runs around in her underwear.
  • A woman shows her bare thigh to Hushpuppy. There are images of aurochs tattooed on her thigh.
  • We see the image of a young woman (from the waist down) wearing only her underwear.
  • In one scene, Hushpuppy ends up in a brothel, where several women dressed in flimsy low-cut slips dance with men. Several young children also dance slowly with the women and bury their heads in a woman’s cleavage, as though they’re starved for motherly love. 

Product placement

None of concern 

Coarse language

This movie has some coarse language. 

Ideas to discuss with your children

Beasts of the Southern Wild is an emotionally intense drama, showing the harsh realities of the life of a six-year-old girl in a poverty-stricken bayou community. The movie targets an older audience and is truthful and brilliant. But it’s also emotionally draining and too intense for children under 15 years.

The movie is full of wisdom and powerful messages, most of which come from six-year-old Hushpuppy. For example, Hushpuppy believes that people are a little piece of a big universe. She think that ‘the whole universe depends on everything fitting together just so. If the tiniest piece is missing it will be busted’. She maintains that if you can fix a broken piece everything will fit right back.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include the following:

  • Generosity, selflessness, friendship and caring: although the people of Bathtub live in poverty, they show boundless generosity towards each other. For example, they share what little they have with those who have nothing.
  • Bravery: Hushpuppy shows great bravery when she faces and stares down her fears, which take the form of the extinct imaginary beasts called aurochs.

You could talk with your children about how the resilient Hushpuppy uses her imagination to create imaginary beasts that help her make sense of and cope with the insecurity, heartache, chaos and turmoil of her everyday life.