Rousseau, meet Hobbes.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (official site) is told from a six-year-old’s perspective with such thoroughness that the adult mind struggles to retreat to safe conceptual categories.
Quvenzhané Wallis (who was only 5 when she auditioned) is allowed — indeed, encouraged — by director Ben Zeitlin to act like a real child in her role of Hushpuppy. A real child. Not the wise-cracking miniature adult of sit-com fame, nor a cherub wide-eyed with exaggerated wonderment.
A real six-year-old takes for granted the most bizarre things — because they’ve always been part of her world, or because adults do them, and whatever adults do is, by definition, normal. So to see from the point of view of this child in an isolated bayou community is to accept without question a world that runs on principles foreign to urban Americans.
It’s tempting, in that context, to retreat to Romantic Primitivism and supply the wonderment ourselves. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Hushpuppy is about six. There’s a Catholic tradition that 7 is roughly the age at which people become capable of discerning right from wrong. So a six-year-old is on the cusp from being innocent and savage as the beasts of the field to accepting the responsibilities of being fully human. This is the coming-of-age story I believe we’re led into.