[This article was originally written as an assignment for my degree.]
When Hushpuppy confronts and stares down the Auroch’s during the films climax, it is then that I work out the intentions of writer/directer Benh Zeitlin.
The Katrina and Climate Crisis metaphor, with a sprinkling of post-racial Obama era politics, would be a complete failure if not for Hushpuppy (the brilliant Quvenzhané Wallis) and Zeitlin’s insistence that the audience sees the world through her eyes.
When the Auroch’s are first mentioned, the mythical beings (which in the film are carnivorous Boar-like creatures, unlike the extinct Cattle subspecies that went extinct in the 1600s) are set up as the danger that will envelope Hushpuppy’s existence. They represent the lingering idea that Wink, her father, will die. The storms are intertwined with his failing health, the Aurochs confront Hushpuppy after he has passed.
This is the story of a 6 year old coming to terms with the idea that she will have to live life by herself, after her father has died. The looming threat of his passing is foretold by the narration detailing life in the Bathtub.
Living on the fringes of society, cutoff from mainland USA by a gigantic levee, the Bathtub and its residents live off of the land. A basic existence unconcerned with matters in the real world. This is a stand-in for the people of Louisiana and Florida, that aren’t affected by the government, and are ignored even in crisis. Only when the levee is blown up (an act of sabotage and damage), is there a response. They forced the hand of the government to respond.
It is here that the film makes Hushpuppy realise that the world has forces in it that she can change. People can force change for the better, unlike the unrelenting, temperamental weather. It is here she decides to find her other.
The journey that Hushpuppy makes to potentially find her Mother (who may or may not be the sex-worker she encounters), and then deciding that she is better off without the mother figure in her life represents a shift in the growth of Hushpuppy. She is no longer a child dependent on mythical thoughts, of an imagination that hasn’t helped the health of her Father.
That is why Hushpuppy is central to every scene, when the camera shifts to another character it is done only to show the reactions to her actions. The film is her journey, from being a child, to something more.