Sunday, December 7, 2008



Dir: Baz Luhrmann

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, var. Aborigines (uncredited)

Runtime: 2 hrs 50 mins

Welcome to an island shrouded in mystery and make-believe. Welcome to an island where Summer is Winter, Winter is Summer, Spring is some new season you've never even heard of, and Fall is just gone altogether. Welcome to an island that inexplicably emerged from the sea about 250 years ago.

Welcome to Australia.

Recent Gallup polls have determined that 72% of Americans don't believe Australia is a real continent. Amongst them, there are two schools of thought. Some believe that Australia is a desolate wasteland ruled by highly intelligent (yet very savage and cruel) beasts and pseudo-futuristic motorcycle gangs.

Others claim that Australia doesn't exist, and is an imaginary place invented by the British Empire some 200 years ago.

If you've ever wondered if Australia is real, recent blockbuster documentary Australia is for you.

Within the first few minutes of the film, Director Baz Luhrmann finally sets the debate to rest: the island of Australia is as real as you or I. With what appears to be complete disregard for their own safety and self-preservation, Luhrmann and his film crew actually go there.

Upon arrival, Lurhmann interviews Native Australian (called Aborigine) Hugh Jackman, an Australian historian, who sheds light on the reasons behind the Northern Hemisphere's misconceptions of his homeland.

“Many people out there believe that Australia was made-up by the British Empire, and with good reason,” says Jackman. “The British Empire was notorious for making-up islands; they did Christmas Island, Easter Island, and of course, Ireland. It's no wonder that people thought Australia was just another hoax.

“Estimates for when Australia was actually discovered range between 1898 all the way up to 1962. While many countries lay claim to Australia, none are able to prove that they discovered it. What we do know for sure is that Australia was completely uninhabited until it was discovered, which was definitely no more than 110 years ago.”

Jackman, however, is unable to settle whether Australia is a continent, or just a really big island.

“Well, it's very large, which is a telling characteristic of a continent,” says Jackman. “On the other hand, it is an island.”

This part of the debate will, undoubtedly, continue among scholars for many years to come.

Part 2: Queen of the Outback

Early on in his exploration of the desolate Outback, Luhrmann and his film crew are captured by a band of pseudo-futuristic motorcyclists. They are brought to the Compound— a mighty fortress built mostly from iron scraps and tires; a paradox that is both pseudo-futuristic and medieval.

Luhrmann and company are brought before Nicole Kidman, who is a paradox within herself– cold and deadly self-proclaimed Queen of the Outback, but also a sensual woman; strong and vulnerable. A gleam in her eye speaks of passion, and the deadly kind of passion (if any other kind exists). Many suitors have courted her, and they have all had their hearts impaled on a spike.

Quite literally. The spike stands in the main courtyard, with half a dozen shriveled hearts of men in various stages of decomposition. However, if you could talk to any one of these suitors from beyond the grave, and ask if they regret it, they would all say, “Not even for a moment.”

Kidman informs the film crew that, having seen the location of the Compound, they must remain here forever. Some protest, but it's obvious that there is no arguing with the Queen of the Outback.
Many months pass, and the film crew gradually adjust to their new lives. There is a lot of hard work, the kind of work that men from the “modern world” are unused to, but they grow into quickly, and most of them begin to love the slowed down, simple lives they have here.

But not all are satisfied, and the cameraman, who yearns for his old life, attempts an escape. He scales the Inner Wall. A watchman fires his crossbow, but misses, while another sounds the alarm.

As the cameraman scales the Outer Wall, Kidman pulls from her hair a metal weapon similar to a boomerang. Taking only a moment to aim, she hurls it with perfect accuracy. There is contact, and the man is instantly decapitated.

Luhrmann is furious with Kidman, and they do not speak for days.

A funeral is held, and Luhrmann tells a story or two about the cameraman. They weren't very close, but Luhrmann cares for all his crew in an almost paternalistic way. The story-telling is cathartic, and while Luhrmann is speaking, he begins to weep. Soon everyone is weeping uncontrollably.

Then, amidst the purifying tears, one man starts laughing. The laughter spreads as suddenly and as quickly as the weeping did, until Luhrmann is laughing too. Life is strange and beautiful.

The next day, Luhrmann awakes to the sound of the alarm, and people shouting. One voice, a female voice that feels like the bitter cold of Summer in the Outback, carries above the din.

“To arms, you men! This is our day of reckoning!” Kidman shouts, brandishing a pair of slim daggers, daggers that are no strangers to the warmth of soft flesh. Daggers that have silenced the beating hearts of dozens of beasts and men alike.

There is a cry from the outer wall. Arrows whistle.

Luhrmann sees one. A kangaroo. He never believed these mythic creatures existed. They stand tall and upright, like a man stands. But they are capable of vertical leaps of nearly fifty feet, from the ground outside to the top of the Outer Wall.

He watches a man swing an axe at a kangaroo, and miss. The kangaroo rips out the man's throat with it's claws, and lets out a fierce cry, emboldening the rest. At first Luhrmann is frightened, but then rage sweeps over his body like a rancorous broom. Rage towards his wife, Gloria and his friend Peter (back in his other life in sunny Malibu, California) who were drunk and slept together and were both really sorry about it, they were both just so fucking sorry about it. And how he forgave them and got over it, but never really got over it.

But most all, he feels Rage for the fallen cameraman, and the man who just had his throat ripped out on the wall, and for all the other goddamn good men in the world who die too young. Grabbing a loose metal pipe, he enters the melee.

He strikes a kangaroo from behind, rescuing his key grip from a grisly fate. As he helps the man to his feet, a tiny kangaroo bursts from the fallen kangaroo's grotesque stomach pouch, and sinks its sharp teeth into Luhrmann's scalp. He cries in pain and pulls at the beast, but it has latched on too tightly.

A flash of steel, and the tiny kangaroo releases and falls limp. Kidman wipes her blade on her already bloodstained shirt. In the thrilling chaos of battle, their consciousness has become one, and Luhrmann doesn't even need to thank her.

Luhrmann and Kidman realize they are surrounded. They draw inward, and position themselves back to back. Wave after wave of kangaroo approaches them and subsequently fall, creating a mountain of kangaroo corpses beneath their feet. By the end, Kidman and Luhrmann are soaked with blood, and gasping for breath.

When he realizes there are no more living kangaroos, exhaustion sweeps over him like a tiring broom.

“There are many good soldiers who fell today,” Kidman says to the survivors. “But tonight we, the living, we will feast and be merry.”

That night, the air fills with the sweet smell of roasting kangaroo bacon. Beer flows, and the survivors sing and dance. Tomorrow they will bury their dead.

And tomorrow Luhrmann, and his remaining crew, will leave.

He finds Kidman alone, by the firelight, and together they sit for a while.

Finally, he speaks. “I made movies about life, but I had forgotten how to live. You made me remember.”

“Then why are you leaving?”

Luhrmann hesitates for a second, and in that second passes thirty years. An entire future life that could be. He remains here with Nicole Kidman, and becomes King of the Outback. She bears his many children. Blonde, beautiful, warrior children. The princes and princesses of Australia. Their royal family unites the other pseudo-futuristic motorcycle bands, and leads them to victory, driving the bloodthirsty kangaroos to extinction once and for all.

Their hair turns grey, and they continue to rule. Until one night, many years later, he dies peacefully in his sleep.

This future could be his. All he needs to do is stay.

But he can't.

It's his wife, Gloria. It always has been her.

“No,” he says slowly. “I must go.”

Kidman's eyes glisten in the firelight, and she turns her back to him. She refuses to let any man see her like this. Any man that sees her like this has his heart torn out and placed upon the spike. She wants to do this to Luhrmann, but she already knows that she won't. He's different from the others. She makes him feel weak, and she hates him for that.

“Then go now."

Luhrmann sits silently for another minute, and then goes. He gathers his crew, and they leave as the dawn begins to break.

5 out of 5 stars.

1 comment:

Sean Catlett said...

This documentary really seemed orchestrated to me. After the crew is captured, there is a helicopter shot establishing the layout of the compound, (and again in the melee battle, overlooking the chaos and bloodshed). No one thought to use this helicopter to escape? Also, after the cameraman is killed, WHO IS FILMING EVERYTHING? The movie does not explain. There was also no mention of the Dragon/Dinosaurian wars during the first years of colonization. I know it is not the main subject of the documentary, but even Attenborough's fictional series Planet Earth covered this period, and quite well I might add. I find it irresponsible that Luhrmann failed to acknowledge it (or perhaps it is hatred for his own Dinosaurian bloodline, which I suppose I can't blame the filthy quarter-blood for possessing).

I did find the 45-minute scene of graphic mutual sodomy between the best boy and the leader of the kangaroo army to be quite beautiful and evocative, orchestrated or not. It could be a telling bit of evidence towards Baz's sensibilities. Perhaps it will be the focus of his next documentary? I certainly hope so.