Saturday, 29 August 2009

Coming In With The Golden Light

The Last Wave was Australian director Peter Weir's second attempt at tackling the Aboriginal myth of the Dreamtime following the beautiful, psychedelic The Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975).

Judging from the trailer, with this 1977 film Weir cast aside the oblique approach favoured by the previous work, building a full-on mystic thriller around the folklore of indigenous Australians. Doesn't seem to have a current UK DVD release, but I'll keep foraging and once I've watched it, I'll post a full report. I should probably get around to watching his 1974 debut The Cars That Ate Paris, too.

Incidentally, wasn't Richard Chamberlain an unbelievably beautiful man, in his day?

Edit: I've just finished watching The Last Wave. It didn't disappoint. Richard Chamberlain's performance is very low-key, which has led some to accuse him of woodenness, but in my opinion his portrayal of a man's helpless slide into a world with which he's desperately unfamiliar is astonishingly well-judged. The sense that the character is running to catch up with his destiny contributes enormously to the overall sense of apocalyptic dread that suffuses the film, along with Russell Boyd's cinematography, which makes much of the aquatic theme, casting everything in watery, liquescent hues, especially during the brief premonition sequences (one of which in particular is haunting in the extreme - but I won't ruin it for prospective viewers).

It's interesting to me that this film was released in the same year as Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, which I watched for the first time in an age last night. They share the theme of a relatively ordinary guy who receives a mystical calling he neither asked for nor wanted, which gradually draws him away from his family, and indeed the great majority of humanity. I suppose there are Nietzschean connotations here, but I'm not really qualified to say. Both The Lost Wave's David Burton and Close Encounters' Roy Neary (played by a grandstanding Richard Dreyfuss) are transformed into something more than human by their contact with supernatural forces - in Burton's case, the Aboriginal Dreamtime, in Neary's, his extraterrestrial interlopers. Needless to say, though, the conclusion of The Last Wave is hardly the prog rock fireworks display of Spielberg's film, and when Burton detaches himself from his family it's with the intention of shielding them from a harm he has barely begun to understand, rather than to more easily pursue his personal dreamquest.

In all, The Last Wave makes for a harrowing experience, and works as a fine companion piece to The Picnic At Hanging Rock, exploring similar themes - the attempted lamination of 'civilisation' upon historically 'tribal' territory and its psychic and physical consequences, reality versus dream, the irresistable lure of hysteria, incipient clairvoyance - and similarly showcasing the director's hallucinatory early style. In recent times Weir's made some films I couldn't care less for, but later works such as Fearless and The Truman Show indicate that when the mood takes him, he is still capable of making intelligent films that question the nature of sanity and reality.