December 8, 2008, at AMC Stonebriar, Frisco, Texas
The country down under has been the land of my dreams since I was a young girl. I first discovered Australia twenty-six years ago, in 1982, while (appropriately) sitting in the cinema and watching The Man From Snowy River. Not only did I fall head over heels for its star, a young Tom Burlinson, but I was captivated beyond words with the Snowy Mountains and the lush landscape of Victoria. Never before had I known of such beauty in the world, and never before had a place spoken so intimately to my senses and to my heart. All of these years I have dreamed of visiting, and perhaps even living, in Oz. Alas, my love is yet unrequited, and so I content my soul with written and visual tales of this mysterious land. Baz Luhrmann’s new film, Australia, is a perfect appeasement.
Australia is in every way an epic film. Its story is sweeping and romantic, its cinematography resonant, and its tone is a throwback to a grander time in film when everything was done on a large and sometimes melodramatic scale. What keeps the film grounded, though, is its heart. Much of the marketing has focused solely on the romance between Lady Ashley, a prim Englishwoman played by Nicole Kidman, and a rugged Australian drover portrayed by Hugh Jackman, but theirs is not the central story. The heart of Australia is the tale of one Aboriginal boy searching desperately for a place to belong. The boy, Nullah, was born to an Aboriginal mother but was fathered by a white man. As such, the boy is neither black nor white, and is thus considered nothing at all. In his search for belonging, Nullah experiences a life of joy with Lady Ashley and the Drover and a life of purpose through his Aboriginal grandfather, but spends his young life avoiding the territory police who seek to place him and other children like him into a mission school in order to “remove” the native from their lives. Nullah’s journey becomes central to everything else in the film, and, in the end, it is he who defines both Lady Ashley and the Drover.
While watching Australia I was struck not only by the visual feast of Australia’s Northern Territory but also by the scope of the film itself. It is at once a joyful romance, a stirring drama, an introductory history lesson and a cautionary tale, and I have not experienced a film this rich and satisfying since Out of Africa. The young actor who plays Nullah is truly magical, Nicole Kidman is not the least bit annoying, and Hugh Jackman is ruggedly gorgeous and, in one scene, as dashing as any film star from the 1940s. Without a doubt, Australia has a treasured place in my list of all-time favorite films, and it has further deepened my great love for its country of origin.
images from Internet Movie Database