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Aren Bergstrom

The Last Wave

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I rewatched The Last Wave last night after watching it for the first time back in June when I was knocking off some Peter Weir blindspots. What a beguiling film, one that percolated around my head for the past month, which is what prompted me to put it on again. Not surprising that I liked it even more the second time.

In many ways, the film hits some familiar notes in its general conceit about a white man trying to do right by a colonized people. Richard Chamberlain's David Burton has a bit of a white saviour complex (a colleague even calls him out for his bourgeois attitudes towards the Aborigines) and his adamance about using the defense of "tribal cursing" as the cause of death in their trial shows that he wants to exoticize them in order to save them, but by doing so, such an approach would keep them at a remove, keep them Other. 

But unlike with so many other stories of this sort, Weir is not satisfied with leaving the dynamic there. He complicates the white saviour complex so much by not only digging into David's selfish motivations for helping Chris and the other men (it's suggested that he thinks that if he helps them, his bad dreams will go away, since they may be an aspect of white guilt), but by making David some kind of apocalyptic figure within their understanding of the Dreamtime. This raises all sorts of colonial implications, as in many ways, the appearance of white settlers in Australia was the End Times for Aborigine Australians—their way of life was destroyed. Furthermore, the film parallels the divide between Aborigine culture and settler culture with the divide between the Dreamtime and the waking world. This materializes the cultural divide between the two peoples—it's not just that they see the world in different ways, but that they are literally tapping into different realities and experiencing the world in different ways.

There's so much to unpack here. Maybe I'll get around to writing something for 3 Brothers Film and clarifying much of my admiration for this film. As it stands right now, I can hardly think of a better movie about colonial relations or about the shift between waking and dreaming.

(I noticed a lot of talk about The Last Wave in the Picnic at Hanging Rock thread, but no individual thread, so I hope I'm not doubling up.)


"Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film." - Werner Herzog

3brothersfilm.com

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