Force of nature: An unknown cast creates a whirlwind

Cut off from the mainland, surrounded by rising waters, the Bathtub is a desolate wilderness of poverty where a small community struggles to survive. Hushpuppy considers it "the prettiest place on Earth." She is a fierce and unbreakable 6-year-old girl who lives here with her father, Wink, and other survivors who live so close to the earth that it speaks with them.

In the opening moments of Beasts of the Southern Wild, I had no idea when or where we were. Only gradually did I understand that the Bathtub is offshore from New Orleans, isolated by levees, existing self-contained on its own terms. The distant profiles of drilling rigs and oil refineries might as well be mysterious prehistoric artifacts.

A fearsome storm is said to be on the way, but existence here is already post-apocalyptic, the people cobbling together discarded items of civilization like the truck bed and oil drums that have been made into a boat. Their ramshackle houses perch uneasily on bits of high ground, and some are rebuilding them into arks they hope will float through the flood. Hushpuppy is on intimate terms with the natural world, with the pigs she feeds and the fish she captures with her bare hands, and sometimes she believes animals speak to her in codes.

This is only an illustration of the way all small children think, translating the mysteries of an unfolding world into their own terms. But Hushpuppy lives in a desolate world, and her inner resources are miraculous. She is so focused, so sure, so defiant and brave, that she is like a new generation put forward in desperate times by the human race. She is played by a force of nature named Quvenzhane Wallis, who was 5 when the movie was cast, 7 when it was finished, and like many of the cast members, had never acted before. She is so uniquely and particularly herself that I wonder if the movie would have been possible without her. Full Review