August 22, 2014

The Last Wave

The Last WaveThe Last Wave or Black Rain (US title) is an Australian film from 1977, directed by Peter Weir. It is about a white solicitor in Sydney whose seemingly normal life is disrupted after he takes on a murder case and discovers that he shares a strange, mystical connection with the small group of local Australian Aborigines accused of the crime.

Plagued by bizarre dreams, Burton begins to sense an otherworldly connection to one of the accused (David Gulpilil). He also feels connected to the increasingly strange weather phenomena besetting the city. His dreams intensify along with his obsession with the murder case, which he comes to believe is an Aboriginal tribal killing by curse, in which the victim believed. Learning more about Aboriginal practices and the concept of Dreamtime as a parallel world of existence, Burton comes to believe the strange weather bodes of a coming apocalypse.

The film climaxes in a confrontation between the lawyer and the tribe's shaman in a subterranean sacred site.
The Last WaveThe Last Wave shared similar mystical and occult elements with Weir's previous film but also explored the cultural disconnect between white urban society and the laws and legends of aboriginal tribal people. More importantly, the film moves ominously back and forth between a dream world and a natural one in which frogs fall from the sky, water pours out of car radios and hailstorms suddenly erupt without warning in the dusty, arid Outback. While the film could be read as an early warning of the global warming effects to come, the underlaying tension and power of this quietly menacing thriller comes from Weir's use of symbols and mythology to question Australia's identity and its future.

Pauline Kael of The New Yorker wrote, "The plot of this Australian film is a throwback to the B-movies of the 30s and early 40s, and the vintage RKO and Universal..But it's hokum without the fun of hokum; despite all the scare-movie apparatus, this film fairly aches to be called profound." Vincent Canby of The New York Times was more positive, calling the film, "a movingly moody shock-film, composed entirely of the kind of variations on mundane behavior and events that are most scary and disorienting because they so closely parallel the normal." The film's reputation has grown since then thanks to a DVD release on the esteemed Criterion Collection label and is essential viewing for anyone interested in Peter Weir's development as a director. The Last Wave is also worth a look alone for Russell Boyd's ravishing and magical cinematography which depicts an exotic but unsettling side of Sydney and the Australian Outback rarely seen in movies.
The Last Wave (The Criterion Collection)"A dream is a shadow...of something real"
By Wing J. Flanagan on July 28, 2001

Peter Weir's The Last Wave has very much the texture of a beautiful, disturbing dream. Before going Hollywood and losing his artistic teeth, he made evocative little gems like this one--full of unformed dread and pregnant with the possibility of mythic revelation.

Eerie, evocative, and haunting
By Stephen Chakwin on August 18, 1999

Our modern, rational culture floats like a small boat on a huge, dark ocean of unguessable depth. Richard Chamberlain, in perhaps his best role ever, is a lawyer specializing in the arid technicalities of corporate taxation who is, by chance [well no, not really, as it turns out] drawn into the Shamanic world of the tribal aborigines who, unknown to most people, still inhabit Sydney, Australia.

Shocking, haunting, evocative
By Kali on November 1, 2000

This is a thinking-person's film. It is slow moving but suspenseful and the plot is sometimes complicated but never confusing. Well worth adding to your video collection if you want something excitingly different and intellectually stimulating.
Rob's comments

Besides its indigenous (Australian) themes, The Last Wave has a few connections to Native America:

  • The Aborigines indicate their ancestors came from South America. Which would make them all or part Native. But no serious anthropologist believes that happened.

  • Some of the cave paintings look Latin American or Egyptian.

  • Chamberlain is supposedly part Native. According to Weir, his looks made him right for the role.

  • My take is that The Last Wave was entertaining but not gripping or compelling. I give it a 7.5 of 10.

    For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

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