Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Australia is a grand, sweeping movie that in my opinion is not meant to be taken as a genuine historical reenactment like a Saving Private Ryan or even Apocalypse Now; Australia is a love story framed by the spirit of the land it takes place in and the events that surround the characters. The indigenous people of Australia and their traditions of magic play a huge role in the plot of the film and the story and characters of Australia must be filtered through the use of “magic” as well – this magic influence cannot effect one character only – if it is used in the plot it must be used universally for all.
I bring the above up because of the character Nullah, the mixed race aboriginal boy that Lady Sarah adopts when his mother dies. Nullah is the son of a witch doctor, and believes he is a magic man himself; Nullah frames the story as the narrator and is the reason the characters overcome several nearly devastating events – all based on his use or belief in his magical powers. This plays heavily into the end of the movie – Nullah claims responsibility for the lack of a character dying. While I slightly preferred the original ending of the film (where the character did die) this ending does fit with the magical framework surrounding the film – if we believe Nullah can stop a heard of stampeding caddle before they push him off a cliff then why can we not believe he can avoid a bullet?
What I do need to address as I saw the original ending to the film months ago is what was changed with that ending – if you don’t want to be at least slightly spoiled stop reading. Originally someone is shooting at Nullah in Darwin and Drover and Sarah see, Drover rushes out to get Nullah out of the way and succeeds in keeping Nullah from being shot but he takes the bullet instead. Sarah rushes over realizing that the wound is bad, they have their typical last lovers speech about how he cares for her and wishes he’d told her then he dies before help can arrive. Sarah and Nullah continue back to Faraway Downs to avoid the Japanese Army and along the way they meet up with King George and this time she lets Nullah go on walkabout. It was sad, but it was poignant and made Sarah grow further; what didn’t work about that ending was that Hugh Jackman’s Drover is a more compelling character than Kidman’s Sarah Ashley – killing him made his arch seem incomplete. This led to the new ending that is on the film.
In this new ending Drover lives because Nullah’s magic keeps the bullet from both of them and all parties live. Rather than a dying speech about how he loves Sarah and Nullah the Drover actually continues his arch, breaking his mold by returning home with them and seeing his influence on Sarah when she lets Nullah go.
Both endings work for me. The original ending because it makes the movie more of a traditional epic, and the existing ending because it makes the movie more of the magical, reality tweaked setting that I have loved so much from Baz in the past.
I think this movie is going to divide people if nothing else because the MTV/youtube generation cannot sit through a two hour forty-five minute movie well and continue to pay attention if there is not fast cutting and explosions. However, I do think that Australia is the kind of filmmaking that needs to be celebrated; in the way that Moulin Rouge! brought musicals back to the theatres I can hope that Australia will have some kind of influence on current theatre trends as well, bringing back less Michael Bay “epics” and more sweeping, grabbing stories.