Baz Luhrmann :: Australia :: 2008 :: 2h35
Gone with the Australian wind… the poster is unambiguous about its pretence to portray an epic romantic story set in the dusty outback. The elegant Nicole Kidman and the rough Hugh Jackson on the verge of an embrace with the second world war planes, cows and an old aborigine to illustrate the exotic final frontier of the western colonial world. This indeed covers most of what you will see in those 2,5 hours, but there is a little more to say.
The adventure follows an aristocratic English Lady Sarah who travels down under to join her estranged husband on their estate in the northern territories. It is the 1930s and there is the threat of a world war hanging in the air. On arrival, she is picked up from the port by a cowboy known as “Drover”. You know that she will fall for him, but you do not yet know why. You know that she will have to change her way of life to accommodate the wild surroundings, but you do not yet know how much. Their meeting, and their first trip together from the port to the ranch is filled with a lightness best characterised as absurdity. The movie announces its colours, that it is not to be taken too seriously.
Throughout their time in Northern Australia, you get to see fantastic landscapes and beautiful grand shots. It brings home the “epic” elements, as do the morale of getting down to doing what you believe in, in which the story is soaked. It is that blessed time in which good and bad are as easy to distinguish as in a children’s cartoon. This is all very well for the sort of movie it intends to be. The main characters, however, remain somewhat undeveloped and perhaps more importantly, there is a spark missing. The possible exception is a little boy who runs around on the ranch and who becomes as their adopted son. He is the cross-over racial mixture (white-aborigine) which will be the future of the country. But the movie can not hinge on a little boy. And it is also exactly in this boy that the movie becomes awkward, precisely in its dealing with its colonial/ racist past.
In the beginning of the movie, we see a segregated society where only white men can order their drink at the bar, with women served in an adjacent room and non-whites not served at all. This arrangement imploded, in real life, through the struggle for equality. In the movie, however, the story is a little more obscure. Drover, having been married to a black woman, feels the weight of the injustice on his shoulders. Through the character of Drover, we can live some of the painful past. But what about the native inhabitants of Australia? The aborigines, besides just being there and being colonised by the British, must be given something for themselves too. To do justice to their culture, they are attributed here with an obscure magical power. Showing magic as a part of aborigine culture is one thing, but attributing “actual” magical powers to them is a form of ridicule, and Luhrmann should not have done it. Dealing with the losing side of colonialism, or any battle for that matter, is always tricky, but pretending that that party is something they are not is not the right way out. The criticism is enough to remove the film from the list of future classics, but to take it all on a lighter note, what’s a little magic amongst friends? Australia is a very enjoyable movie, with some spectacular pictures and an engaging adventure story. So why not just take that plunge down under?