Australian Council on Children and the Media

Beasts of the Southern Wild

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Not recommended under 15 due to disturbing themes and scenes

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • a review of Beasts of the Southern Wild completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 28 August 2012.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 15 Not recommended due to disturbing scenes and themes.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Mature themes
Length 93 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Cut off from the real world by a massive levee bank is the Louisiana bayou town of Bathtub where 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 manner 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, who displays unpredictable mood swings and spends much of his time in a semi-drunken state.  However, when Wink becomes terminally ill and a massive storm strikes, flooding the community of Bathtub, Hushpuppy’s universe falls apart. The salty flood waters not only destroy property but the environment itself, leaving the people of Bathtub without a means to survive.

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

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

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

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

The film contains physical and verbal abuse of a small child, some reckless behaviour resulting in destruction and injury, and occasional action violence and peril. Examples include:

  • In a couple of scenes, Hushpuppy’s father shouts at her in anger, threatening violence (“I’m going to bust your arse”) andshe runs away in fear.
  • A hurricane hits the community of Bathtub, with wind and rain battering makeshift shacks, ripping off iron roofing etc. Hushpuppy takes refuge in her father’s shack as the storm rips it apart. She calls out in fear for her mother. Wink, in a crazed, drunken state, runs around outside in the storm firing his shotgun into the air while shouting insults at the storm. The following morning Wink uses an axe to chop his way through their iron roof and we see devastating images of storm damage and major flooding with houses, property and the local environment destroyed.      
  • In a flashback scene we see a woman shoot an alligator with a shotgun; we her pointing the gun at the alligator, see the gun fired and see the front of the woman’s clothes and legs spayed with blood.
  • 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 (we see images of Hushpuppy sinking under the water) with debris falling all around; Hushpuppy and the others are uninjured.      
  • At one point during the film, Hushpuppy throws a tantrum hurlingand smashing things. To encourage Hushpuppy to release her anger, her father throws things around as well and the tantrum turns into a type of pillow fight.
  • Following the storm and flood, the residents of Bathtub are ordered to evacuate their homes, and when they refuse, government officials forcibly remove them. Hushpuppy and her father barricade themselves in their home, shouting and throwing objects at the government officials. The residents of Bathtub are taken to a temporary shelter/hospital where they riot and escape in a stolen bus. At one point while in the hospital we see Hushpuppy’s father roughing up a doctor before he is physically restrained by hospital orderlies. 
  • In one scene we see Hushpuppy, out of anger, punch her father in the stomach with her father clutching his stomach and falling to the ground unconscious. Hushpuppy, believing that she has “broken” her father, runs off in a state of panic and distress.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

N/A

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of eight, including the following:

  • Six-year-old Hushpuppy lives by herself in a makeshift cabin. We see her using a large butane torch to light a gas stove and, in one scene, the stove explodesand the kitchen catches on fire. Hushpuppy hides beneath a cardboard box as the flames engulf her house. When Hushpuppy’s father 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 uninjured in the nick of time.
  • When emotional crisis confronts Hushpuppy, she imagines her fears as fierce and scary looking extinct beasts called aurochs. In one scene we see imagined aurochs rampaging through the community of Bathtub crashing through shacks. Another scene depicts images of aurochs savagely eating a dead aurochs. In one scene we see a herd of fierce aurochs chasing Hushpuppy and a small group of children. Hushpuppy triumphs over her fears when she confronts the head aurochs, staring him down.
  • In the aftermath of the storm, bloated rotting carcases of a cow, fish and birds float in the flood waters. One scene depicts the image of dead animal that had been half eaten by scavengers.
  • As a method of coping with the loss of her mother, Hushpuppy constructs a mannequin consisting of a chair with an old basketball singlet draped across it and a face drawn on paper stuck to the back of the chair.
  • After being abandoned by her father for several says, Hushpuppy finds her father dressed in a hospital gown walking around in a field in a dazed and confused manner. When Hushpuppy approaches her father he shouts at her in anger and Hushpuppy runs away confused and frightened.    
  • In one emotionally intense scene, Hushpuppy, realising that her father is terminally ill tells her father that she is aware of what is happening “You think I don’t know, you think I can’t see”.   
  • Hushpuppy’s father coughs up blood onto the ground. Later we see him coughing up blood while in bed.
  • Hushpuppy’s father tells her that he is dying and can’t take care of her any more and that she isn’t to be sad about things dying.
  • In one emotionally intense scene we see Hushpuppy lying next to her father with her head on his chest as she listens to his dying heartbeat, and we see tears running down Hushpuppy’s face when he dies. Later we see his body in a makeshift boat which is set on fire and pushed out into the water.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

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

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Younger children in this age group may also be disturbed by some of the above-mentioned images

Product placement

None of concern

Sexual references

The film contains occasional low-level sexual references. Examples include:

  • A woman says that a man tried to touch her “titties”.
  • Hushpuppy’s father asks her if he ever told her (Hushpuppy) the story of her conception. We see a flashback image of a Hushpuppy’s mother and hear a story of how she killed an alligator to protect Hushpuppy’s father, and the story of how four minutes after she shot the alligator, Hushpuppy popped into the world.     
  • A waterside bayou brothel displays the sign “Catfish Shack. Girls, Girls, Girls.” 

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some implied and partial nudity. Examples include:

  • In a couple of scenes we see six-year-old Hushpuppy running around in her underwear.
  • Woman displays her bare thigh to Hushpuppy and we see 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 and we see a number of women dressed in flimsy low-cut slips dancing with men. We also see several young children dancing slowly with the women and burying their heads into a woman’s cleavage as though starved for motherly love. 

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Most of the adult characters depicted in the film display alcoholic behaviour with characters continuously consuming various types of alcohol from beer to spirits. We see characters in various states of intoxication. 
  • In one scene, Hushpuppy’s father pours himself a drink of moonshine and then one for Hushpuppy telling her “This counts for a whole bunch of things”.  Hushpuppy drinks it, making a face. 

Coarse language

The film contains some coarse language. Examples include:

  • “Your arse is meat”;  “pussy”; “goddamn it”; “piss on the wall”; “shit”; “holy crap”

In a nutshell

Beasts of the Southern Wild(M) is an emotionally intense drama, depicting the harsh realities of the life of a six-year-old girl in a poverty stricken bayou community. The film, which targets an older audience, is truthful and brilliant, although emotionally draining, and too intense for under 15s.

The film 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 where “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 parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Generosity, selflessness, friendship and caring: Although the people of the bayou community Bathtub lived in poverty they displayed boundless generosity towards each other sharing what little they had with those that had nothing.
  • Bravery: Hushpuppy displays great bravery when she confronts and stares down her fears in the form of extinct imaginary beasts that represent the crises in her life.

    Parents may wish to discuss how the resilient Hushpuppy uses her imagination to create imaginary beasts to help her make sense of and cope with the insecurity, heartache, chaos and turmoil of her everyday life.

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