Film

Wizard of Australia

My one word that sums up Baz Luhrmann’s AUSTRALIA, is epic; just when you think you’ve seen a giant western with beautiful leads set amongst stunning scenery, WWII breaks into the action…

My one word that sums up Baz Luhrmann’s AUSTRALIA, is epic; just when you think you’ve seen a giant western with beautiful leads set amongst stunning scenery, WWII breaks into the action. Critics have judged the film for being cliched and historically incorrect but let not that get in the way of a simple tale well told. After all, this is a love story of opposites attracting across class divides like his Romeo + Juliet or Moulin Rouge were, or Titanic was. And how can you say it’s cliched when I’ve never seen anything like it in one film….how many movies have a cattle stampede, Japanese invasion, ballroom dancing, sex and aborigines? None others I know of.

English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) is like apolished pearl, quite beautiful and very cold. She travels to Australia to ranch Faraway Downs to sort out her husband she assumes is philandering only to find him murdered, apparently by the Aborigine shaman King George (David Gulpilil), grandfather of Nullah. Her guide Drover (a buff and tan Hugh Jackman) joins forces against the cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown) to break his monoploy and sell her herd by getting them on the wharf at Darwin. But King Carney’s gang including the evil Neil Fletcher (David Wenham) are not playing fair.

If Lady Sarah is cold, Drover is hot to the point of boiling. He’s definitely been working out for this a lot – not that he wasn’t hot playing Wolverine in X-Men, but watch out for the shower scene when they are camping in the bush. With no nudity and just a couple of kissing scenes, Australia is fairly chaste but the chemistry Jackman generates keeps the feeling alive in the viewer’s imagination.

As well as the obvious theme of finding love in unexpected places, Australia has themes of injustice and equality, regarding race and gender, both of which Kidman breaks down by drinking in the men only club and with her equal treatment of Aborigines. Set against a backdrop of racism, Kidman defends the half-caste boy Nullah (played superbly by Brandon Walters) with her words, "Just because it is, doesn’t mean it should be." She brings acceptance to "creamy" (half white, half aborigine, and no guesses who his father is) Nullah and finds herself fitting in exactly where she was out of place, in her new home.

Nullah is completely charismatic and it would take a hard heart not to fall for him. After watching another film this week with, coincidentally, a two white adults and a black boy, The Day The Earth Still Still, with the most annoying kid (Will Smith’s son Jayden) since Home Alone’s Macauley Caulkin, Nullah is a total breath of fresh air. The audience laughed everytime he announced they’d get the "cheeky fat cattle into the big bloody metal ship."

With Luhrmann’s fantastical story-telling, a thread is woven through the film of the Wizard of Oz, with Lady Sarah singing Somewhere over the Rainbow to Nullah, and the song becoming their anthem and even bringing them together when they had lost all hope.

Australia was directed by Luhrmann from his own original story and a script co-written with Stuart Beattie (the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy), Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald Harwood (“The Pianist”) and acclaimed Australian novelist Richard Flanagan.
Opens Boxing Day 2008.

Megan Robinson, December 2008

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