Courage draws inspiration from two stories with vastly different plots yet they share similarities which may appear superficial at first glance. The first story is the classic fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast. The second is a classic in its own right – a film directed by Benh Zeitlin called Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012). Both stories feature a female protagonist who confronts a creature that’s feared by their respective society/community. By looking beyond the ‘animal,’ our heroines resolve conflict through understanding and it is this concept that is at the heart of Courage.
The poem for Courage references Beauty and the Beast whereby Beauty’s true love for the Beast sets him free from the enchantment that masked his human form. (As a side note, it’s only by sheer luck that the Disney remake is out drawing more attention to story and its themes). The image for ‘Courage’ draws from an iconic moment in Beasts of the Southern Wild. This moment deserves a bit more explanation. (If you plan to see the film, which I highly recommend you do, there might be spoilers below).
Beasts of the Southern Wild is about a six year old young girl named Hushpuppy who has to learn to fend for herself when her father becomes ill. Her mother has already passed away and the film is largely about Hushpuppy’s coping with loss. Hushpuppy and her dad live in a fictional community called the Bathtub located in a Louisiana bayou. The community is cut off from the rest of the world, defiantly so, and the residents must learn to be self sufficient. In the backdrop of everyday survival, we learn that there are giant, prehistoric boars called Aurochs which are feared to be released when the icecaps melt.
The more I think about it, the Auroch’s role in the story is to dramatize the moment that Hushpuppy comes to term with her deepest fear: to be alone in the world without parents. The scene where Hushpuppy meets the Aurochs face-to-face is nothing less than epic. I will never forget how Hushpuppy projected fierceness just with her eyes causing a herd of Aurochs to bow down to her.
One of the struggles I had with the image is scale. In ‘Courage,’ the Auroch is dwarfed by the water which engulfs both characters. On one hand I wanted to emphasize the environment in storytelling as this is a reoccurring thing in the dystopian fairytale series. On the other hand does this work conceptually?
One of the most fascinating aspects of the film is Hushpuppy’s world view:
“When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces. When I look too hard it goes away. And when it all goes quiet, I see they are right here. I see that I’m a little piece of a big, big universe and that makes things right. When I die, the scientists of the future, they’re gonna find it all. They’re gonna know, once there was a Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in the bathtub.”
The scale worked out in the end. Both characters appear small in the environment and I think this serves to highlight Hushpuppy’s view of “pieces fitting together” in a vast universe and the significance of smallness. Her understanding of the world may be what allows her to survive in a harsh reality and this is the core of Courage.