Thursday, December 4, 2008

Australia - The Movie

Who would have thunk it? Here I am doing a movie review of ‘Australia.’
At a 4 PM showing yesterday Christine and I watched the new two hour and forty-five minute Baz Luhrman film with two friends... Our friends will be travelling to Australia in the New Year. This is an ode to a place of grandeur, beauty, wonder. I liked the movie. It lived up to the enthusiastic forecasts. It is what it is, a Hollywood style historical epic, an amalgam of other films like Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, The African Queen, Lawrence of Arabia, Out of Africa, even Titanic. All of these are idealized, well costumed and dazzling escapism. The Australian government has spent one million dollars on a tourism campaign as it counts on the success of this movie internationally. The cinematography is spectacular.

The movie’s genre is a blend of adventure, drama, romance, war and western. It is rated PG-13 for some violence, some strong language (one f-word), some sensuality/sexuality but these are all restrained. There is the implication of the two lead characters cohabiting in a brief and nongraphic bedroom scene.

It is Nullah’s story and the themes and mini plots are bridged with his narration. Nullah is a half-caste boy, born to an Aboriginal mother and a white father. Nullah is an in between child, describing himself as a ‘creamy’ ‘me belong to no one’ and is considered an outcast. In the 1930’s and 40’s mixed race children were wrenched from their indigenous communities and placed on church or state missions or institutions to educate the ‘black’ out of them. These victims became known as ‘The Stolen Generation.’ Canadians can identify because our government did something comparable to First Nations children. Such so called assimilation remained official policy until 1973. In 2008 the Australian government issued an apology to aboriginal peoples.

Nullah tells the story of Mrs. Boss, set in 1939 in northern Australia on the explosive brink of World War II. Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) is an English aristocrat whose husband owns a cattle station southwest of Darwin. She travels from England retrieve her philandering husband, expedite the sale of Faraway Downs to a cattle baron named King Carney and then return to England. She arrives to a dead husband and a foreboding land and is entirely displaced from her comfort zone. She makes the decision to drive two thousand head of cattle across hundreds of miles of unforgiving land to Darwin’s shipyard. To do this she joins forces with a rough-hewn drover (Hugh Jackman).
Drover is another character in whom the evils of racism hit home. His first wife (who was Aborigine) died because Australian doctors couldn't legally provide medical treatment for blacks at the time. He had a developed a that's-just-the-way-it-is attitude, but Sarah teaches him that "just because it is, doesn't mean it should be." Eventually, he also learns to stand publicly against racism.

Don’t look for spiritual content in a movie of this nature. Token references to Christian faith are there but not always complimentary, pointing to the naïve racist Christianity. A deep respect is shown for the practices and teaching of Nullah’s black grandfather, a witch doctor, that are organic, efficacious and magical.

Appreciate it for the visual/sensory treat that it is, for the exposure and censure of racist injustice and a good story. We all enjoy a good story. Here is the site.

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