Dinner & a Movie: ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ with Louisiana-style Seafood Boil
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Beasts of the Southern Wild is narrated by Hushpuppy, an indomitable six-year-old girl with a piercing shriek of a battle cry. Hushpuppy not only narrates, but the reality of the film is shaped by her beliefs. The result is a myth based on Hushpuppy’s inner life. She is at once a tiny part of a big universe and a goddess capable of destroying and recreating the world as she knows it. Viewers gradually realize the world she knows is The Bathtub, a bayou community separated from mainland Louisiana by a levee. Unlike on “the dry side,” life in The Bathtub centers around feasts and parties. Hushpuppy explains, “The bathtub’s got more holidays than the whole rest of the world.” We’ll match one of their feasts with a Louisiana-style seafood boil.
Hushpuppy’s relationship with her father, Wink, is idiosyncratic at best. He calls her “man” and “boss lady.” They live in separate ramshackle trailers, and he announces dinner by ringing a bell and hollering, “Feed up time!” When Hushpuppy tantrums, he joins in. Wink leaves her alone for so long that Hushpuppy comments with offhanded practicality, “If Daddy don’t get back soon, it’s gonna be time for me to start eating my pets.” When he returns, wearing a hospital gown and ID, he responds to her questions by yelling at her to go away. Hushpuppy returns to find her cooking pot sending up a pillar of smoke; she turns up the burner. It’s like she’s daring her father to take care of her.
But life in The Bathtub means learning to take care of herself. Neighborhood medicine woman Miss Bathsheba explains to a captivated crowd of children, “Any day now, fabric of the universe is coming unraveled. Ice caps gonna melt, water is gonna rise, and everything south of the levee is going under. Y’all better learn how to survive, now.” So Hushpuppy is fearless, fiercely independent, a tiny conqueror. She’s played with perfection by Quvenzhané Wallis.
Desperately furious at her father’s neglectful and sometimes abusive approach to parenting, Hushpuppy shouts at Wink, “I hope you die. And after you die, I’ll go to your grave and eat birthday cake all by myself.” She strikes him in the chest, thunder cracks and a big storm rolls in before nightfall — the big storm. It’s easy to see how Hushpuppy believes she set the whole thing in motion, unraveling the fabric of the universe. Before the film ends, she must face both her father’s condition and the legendary Aurochs, a primordial predator freed from glacial ice by climate change.
It’s hard to believe this sweeping, majestic film required a very low budget and used untrained actors. It’s an American equivalent to Pan’s Labyrinth in intensity and magnitude. It’s an apocalyptic fantasy and an emotional tapestry. You leave with stronger belief in your own strength and courage, Hushpuppy’s tiny battle cry echoing through your heart.
If you want to do a 100 percent authentic Louisiana seafood boil, it requires a 50-gallon pot and a propane burner. Assuming your Dinner & a Movie crowd is a little smaller, eyeball the amounts to suit your group size.
Meats of your choice: Traditional options include crab, shrimp, crawfish and smoked sausage. The seafood is served whole and shell on.
corn, cut into servings
chopped or very small whole red-skinned potatoes
onions, roughly chopped
Crab boil seasoning – you can buy pre-mixed or make your own with whole coriander and mustard seeds (about a quarter cup each), and less heavy-handed amounts of whole black peppercorns, dill seed, celery seed, red pepper flakes, allspice and bay leaves tied in a cheesecloth sachet.
Set your pot to boiling with the spice mix, onions and lemons. Let it boil for about 10 minutes to infuse the water with the spices.
With the rest, the secret is timing. Add the potatoes, then wait 5 minutes. Add crab and give them about 15 minutes. Add the sausage when the crab have just five minutes to go. Then throw in the corn and crawfish and wait 5 minutes. Finally, the shrimp just need a quick minute. You can verify that crawfish are cooked when they are bright red and tails can be pulled out easily. You don’t want to overcook any of the seafood, so keep the pot at a rolling boil and use your timer.
Drain the ingredients and serve immediately on parchment paper or stacked newspaper. You can use butter knives or nutcrackers on the crab if you aren’t equipped with crab utensils. Alternatively, you could be like Hushpuppy and “beast it” with your bare hands.