(1977) dir. Peter Weir
After traveling to Australia, I got interested in seeing some of the Australian films that I’d seen in the past and I queued up a few, sort of at random. I remembered Peter Weir’s The Last Wave from cable television in the 1980’s. An apocalyptic film, which was a theme of the period, though perhaps a persistent theme even now, the film is most notable for its usage and portrayal of Australian Aboriginals and its focus on Aboriginal mysticism, which at the time of the making of the film was quite exotic and unheralded.
In the film, torrential rains begin to pummel Sydney, and an attorney, played by Richard Chamberlain, is pulled in to a murder case to defend several Aboriginals who are thought to have killed another Aboriginal man as they judged and executed him according to “Tribal Law”, as opposed to Australian law. And also by pointing a bone at him. Of course, Weir makes things interesting, mixing the mysticism and cataclysm, and imbuing Chamberlain’s attorney with visions of the coming doom.
Oddly, it’s the kind of movie that is perhaps a bit more interesting in retrospect, or maybe just sits better in retrospect. As it played out, it felt a bit clunky, and the faces of the Aboriginals, their stoicism (many of them) is used to speak of some grander depth of perceptual reality. When Chamberlain finally gets to the point of seeing that “the last wave” is coming, it’s all a bit more suggested than spelled out, but the bottom line is that there is something more powerful in the culture of the mystics than in normal humanity. How and why Chamberlain?
It’s odd, but I do kind of like this film. I think Peter Weir for a long time was making many interesting films including Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Galipoli (1981), The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), and then Witness (1985). Though he’s had a couple of lulus on his filmography, Dead Poets Society (1989) and Green Card (1990), even his more recent films have not been overly unfortunate: Fearless (1993), The Truman Show (1998), and Master and Commander: Far Side of the World (2003). He’s drawn to interesting material largely, and perhaps this period from the late 1970’s through the 1980’s, especially his Australian-oriented films, are the most thought-provoking.
I am inspired to watch more of his films to help clarify my feeling. It’s been years since I’ve seen any of his films, and with my Australian film kick, I will probably see a few more.