Friday, April 5, 2013

The 'dirty ecology' of 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'

Hushpuppy (Quvenshane Wallis) and Wink (Dwight Henry) adrift in a half-real, half-mythic world. (Twentieth Century Fox, 2012).

In Southern Spaces, an online interdisciplinary journal produced at Emory, Patricia Yeager of the University of Michigan writes about the "dirty ecology" portrayed in "Beasts of the Southern Wild." The 2012 "epic film about toxic inequality" mixes imagery of nature, man and trash, like a throwaway Styrofoam container filled with gator meat.

Below is an excerpt from Yeager's article, interpreting the underlying themes of the movie:

"This throwaway Styrofoam brings us to Beasts' other mythic register—its quest for a way to represent our species' relation to global warming. Styrofoam is made from oil, and images of acetylene torches, gas stoves, and gas engines remind us that although the film's characters are battered by the forces of global warming and their carbon footprint is small, creating a carbon-free democracy is not their concern.

"The citizens of the Bathtub practice a dirty ecology, making do with what they can salvage from other waste-making classes. When a Katrina-like storm savages their community, the damage is endless. A giant pig-beast knocks over power lines: these are animals who 'eat their own mommas and daddies.' In the Bathtub the carbon apocalypse is already upon us. Early in the movie, Hushpuppy's teacher raises her skirt; she shows a thigh tattooed with prehistoric aurochs—'fierce' creatures who signify that 'any day the fabric of the universe is going to unravel.' ...

"The Bathtub's houses are made from castaway metal and lumber, its people jettisoned by the currents of capitalism. It's too close to the water: cut off by a levy from the thing-creating world. The oil refinery looks at once mechanical and auratic; its white spires hover in the same place in the pictorial frame as the calving glaciers that start to rain down on the audience, and free child-eating aurochs—the mythic equivalents of carbon's rough beasts, their hour come round at last.

"These once-extinct, returning aurochs mark the movie's geologic concern, its interest in eras. Around 1750, humans switched from renewable energy to the large-scale use of fossil fuel—a shift in scale marking the beginning of a new era. Ten thousand years ago the Pleistocene or Ice Age gave way to the warmer Holocene, and civilization began in earnest. But our contemporary era, the Anthropocene, has speeded up our species' access to matter until we now create our own weather events, our own set of fractures. Humans are reborn as geologic agents, as the main cause of change for earth itself."

Read the whole article in "Southern Spaces." 

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