Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Australia is on its surface outraged at the historical injustices done in the name of cultural assimilation but underneath its glossy sheen is a cinematic white Australia policy. The film opens and closes with big important titles that spell out the tragedy of the Stolen Generations which is all well and good – I’m a fan of nations facing their historical guilt through cultural experience. There’s obviously a good intention here but Luhrmann’s ludicrous film ends up being more condescending than progressive.
I’m obviously not an aborigine, but I imagine that if I were I would be at the very least bemused by old Baz representing people of my ethnicity as happy magic elves. Yes, once again a white director pays tribute to a non-European culture by imbuing them with mystical powers. In the film, there’s an Old Wise Aboriginal who is always looking over everyone from a cliff because Australia has cliffs everywhere. He’s like Rafiki from The Lion King but without a sense of humour. Then you have the cute kid who is Rafiki’s grandson. He stops a herd of cattle from stampeding off a cliff by singing a magic aboriginal (elvish) song. Yet another Lion King reference here but reimagined: What if Arwen from Lord of the Rings was there in the Lion King stampede scene and saved the day? When will people understand: Aborigines are not magical elves! Be a bit more imaginitive with how you show respect for indigenous culture!
I may not be an aboriginal but I am Asian and this film has one of the worst asian stereotype characters ever. He’s referred to early on as Sing Song which I thought was just a racist jibe but it turns out that THIS IS ACTUALLY HIS NAME! It turns out that Sing Song speaks funny ching chong speak too – He’s like a grown-up version of Short Round from Temple of Doom only much worse because at least Short Round kind of kicked ass.
But what really got to me was how Baz Lurhmann thinks that the only way we’ll understand the tragedy of the Stolen Generation is by making it a white problem. Baz-the-screenwriter actually kills off the little aborignal kid’s mother so that Nicole Kidman can adopt him. This is because it is much more tragic when a child gets taken away from a white woman. Nicole teaches the kid the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which becomes a motif throughout the film. When the kid is taken away, he plays that song. This is because audiences don’t understand the pain of being separated from your home unless it’s articulated through a Judy Garland song.
Australia at it’s best proves that Baz Luhrmann has a competent command of romantic epic cliches and that Hugh Jackman has an incredible body. Besides that, it’s an awful, colonialist, parochial, regressive fantasy. But do see this film for Hugh Jackman’s body. His hard, hairy-chested man body.
SEE THIS WITH:
The African Queen (John Huston, 1951)
The central relationship between Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart is obviously the prototype for Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman’s characters. Katherine Hepburn is much better than Nicole Kidman but Bogie’s modest frame is no match for Hugh Jackman’s hard, hairy-chested man body.