THE LAST WAVE

Directed by Peter Weir. Australia. 1977.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

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"Dreams are like seeing-- like hearing-- like talking. They are a way of knowing things" - Chris 


Richard Chamberlain is David Burton, a tax lawyer living in Sydney, Australia who is drawn into a murder trial defending five Aboriginal men accused of murdering a fellow native in Peter Weir's apocalyptic 1977 thriller The Last Wave. Taking up where Picnic at Hanging Rock left off, the film goes deeper into exploring the unknown and, in the process, shows the gulf between two cultures who live side by side but lack understanding of each others culture and traditions. Weir shows how white society considers the native beliefs to be primitive superstitions and believes that since they are living in the cities and have been "domesticated", their tribal laws and culture no longer apply. 

From the start, Burton is drawn deeper and deeper into a strange web of visions and symbols where the line between real time and "dream time" evaporates. Water plays an important symbolic role in the film from the opening sequence in which a sudden thunder and hailstorm interrupts a peaceful school recess to Burton's discovery that his bathtub is overflowing and water is pouring down his steps.  As violent and unusual weather continue with episodes of black rain and mud falling from the sky, the contrast between the facile scientific explanations of the phenomenon and the intuitive understanding of the natives is made clear. Burton and his wife Annie (Olivia Hamnet) study books about the Aborigines and learn about the role of dreams in the tribal traditions. When he invites one of his clients Chris Lee (David Gulpilil) to his home for dinner, he is disturbed to find that he is the subject of an inquiry by Chris and his friend Charlie (Nadjiwarra Amagula), an enigmatic Aborigine sorcerer involved with the defendants. As Burton's investigation continues, his clients make his work difficult by refusing to disclose the true events surrounding the murder. 

After Chris starts to appear in his dreams, Burton is convinced that the Aborigine was killed in a tribal ritual because "he saw too much", though Chris refuses to acknowledge this in court. Burton, becoming more and more troubled by a mystery he cannot unravel, says to his stepfather priest, "Why didn't you tell me there were mysteries?" This is a legitimate question but, according to the reverend, the Church answers all mysteries. Burton knows now that he must discover the truth for himself and enters the tribal underground caves. Though we do not know for certain what is real and what is a dream, he comes face to face with his deepest fears in a haunting climax that will leave you pondering its meaning into the wee hours of the morning.

In this period of history in which native Hopi and Mayan prophecies predict the "end of history" and the purification of man leading to the Fifth World, The Last Wave, though 25 years old, is still timely. The Aborigines are portrayed as a vibrant culture, not one completely subjugated by the white man, yet I am troubled by the gnawing feeling that we are looking in but not quite seeing. Weir has opened our eyes to the mystery that lies beyond our consensual view of reality, but he perpetuates the doom-orientation that sees possibility only in terms of fear, showing nature as a dark and uncontrollable power without a hint of the spiritual beauty that lives on both sides of time.

Howard Schumann
 
 
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