Beasts of the Southern Wild is a charming little movie made unusual by the extent to which it is told from the point of view of a six-year-old child who is at no point cute in the Shirley Temple way. She is quite believable though hardly average child confronted with an awful situation, her mother long gone, her father gradually dying, and her little homeland in the Louisiana swamps under water in a flood. She isn’t a prodigy, but she has been told always to do what has to be done, and never to cry; and she has learned these lessons well. She has also been told some fables about monsters that will come out of the water, and they take the form of gigantic hogs, because she has never seen a dinosaur and the Beasts of the Southern Wild have to be made up of things she has some knowledge of. There are a lot of things she doesn’t know, and mostly we don’t know them either, because almost everything is unwaveringly from her point of view; toward the end, we can’t be sure what actually happens and what she imagines, because she can’t tell the difference either; but we do know what she experienced, however she experienced it, and that’s all we need to know.
The burden on child actor Quvenzhane Wallis is terrific, but she carries it without a flaw in as naturalistic a performance as I’ve ever seen, and fortunately for her, she lives in a kindly little world where even the monster pigs have their better side, because she just doesn’t think of things as being evil. And it’s not a Pollyanna world: illness does not always bring out the best in her father, and she herself has her limits of understanding and patience. But Beast of the Southern Wild is a combination of the experimental and the realistic that resembles nothing else I can think of, and is triumphantly successful all the way.