3 Stars - Challenging
The epic nature of Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia” is impressive. The story is generational with an historical basis that combines the film genres of romance, western, war, religion and civil rights. As an Aussie, Luhrmann’s love for Australia comes through. As both author and director, he weaves a visual depiction of life in Australia as we experience the unique geography, seasons and cultures of this intriguing southern continent through the likable characters he creates.
The two central characters of the film are diametrically opposed at first. The beautiful, prim and proper Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) is obviously out of place when she arrives from England to visit her husband at their Australian outback ranch, Faraway Downs. Drover (Hugh Jackman) is the handsome cattle drive boss who has agreed to take the ranch’s fifteen-hundred cattle to the port of Darwin. When Drover is sent to bring Lady Ashley out to the ranch, they openly express their dislike for one another and yet romance is predictable when it is discovered that Lord Ashley has been murdered.
Though Lady Ashley is seemingly unsuited to life down under, she quickly reveals her moral courage and adaptability as she takes immediate action to bring justice to her ranch. Likewise, although Drover is a loner who cannot be tied down, he comes to Lady Ashley’s rescue and gradually opens his heart to her.
Mixed into this romantic tale is a story of racial injustice. Nullah (Brandon Walters) is the child of a white man and an aboriginal woman. As a “half-breed” he is vulnerable to the government’s program of taking such children away from their families and putting them under the care of the governmental church. This historically accurate depiction of what happened to these children, who are called the “stolen generation”, is revealed to be a tragic injustice as Lady Ashley becomes attached to Nullah and wants to adopt him and provide a home for him as well as protect him from being taken away by the police. It is unbelievable that this practice remained a governmental policy until 1973.
The villains of the tale are two men, King Carney (Bryan Brown), a greedy rancher who is willing to destroy his neighbors, and Neil Fletcher (David Wenham) whose evil lust for power destroys everyone around him.
The struggle between good and evil in this classic tale provides the tension that is matched by the World War II attacks on Australia by the Japanese and the racial injustice of the government’s treatment of the aboriginal people. As such, it is a valuable if predictably romantic study of this amazing world down under.
- Lady Ashley reveals the depth of her character when she faces the injustices occurring in Australia and she decides to stay and right these wrongs. Have you ever had the opportunity to be a part of righting an injustice? How did you do so? In what ways did it change you?
- The mystical power of Nullah and his grandfather King George (David Gulpilil) implies a power over animals and a connection that can transcend distances. Do you believe such powers exist? Why or why not?
- The ultimate fate of Fletcher fits his own behaviors. Did you find him a believable character? Do you believe he loved his wife or was he merely grasping to own and control the Carney fortune?