Movie review: "Australia"

Epic love story with socio-cultural undertone
**** Rating

By Cornelia Kaufmann

It was hailed as an epic, an epic romance to be exact. And although it doesn’t quite live up to such classics like “Gone with the wind” or “Lawrence of Arabia”, Australia is an epic in its own right. Directed by Sydney-born Wunderkind Baz Luhrmann, it is an homage and declaration of love to his native country.

Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) and The Drover (Hugh Jackman in the role of his life) have to try everything they can to keep her late husband’s cattle station “Faraway Downs” out of the hands of a greedy competitor. The two, coming from completely different backgrounds, slowly learn to respect and love each other. Drover, such an iconic Australian figure that he does not even need a name, is an independent, hard-working man who meets Aborigines with respect. Sarah on the other hand, is a woman who does not understand the social and cultural differences in Australia right away and lived unaware of hardship until she came to the Outback.

On the farm, Sarah meets Nullah (Brandon Walters), a young “mixed-race” Aboriginal boy she adopts with Drover. While his mother is aborigine, his father is an unknown white man, a fate which was a curse for many children of the so-called “stolen generations”. Baz Luhrmann very cleverly chose Nullah as the narrator of the story, lets it be seen through the eyes of a child stuck between two cultures. Elements from native cultural myths, such as the Rainbow Serpent and Dreamtime are linked to the modern world through the “The Wizard of Oz” and the song “Somewhere over the rainbow”. The patchwork-family of Sarah, Drover and Nullah all risk their lives during the Japanese bombing of Darwin to find where they belong.

Australia is not just a love story. It is a story that rises cultural awareness and directly speaks about the “stolen generations” – aboriginal and mixed-race children who were taken from their families and placed in missions. Only in 2008 did the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologize to them. For Nullah, the boy growing up between two worlds, Australia is a coming-of-age story, which is marked by going on the traditional walkabout with his grandfather, the Aborigine Elder called King George, who is said to be a “magic man”.

Next to a compelling storyline, Baz Luhrmann dazzles his viewers with scenic shots of Outback Australia which leave you longing for more. However, he also makes it clear that such a breathtakingly beautiful landscape like the Outback can also be very dangerous, if not deadly.

Although Nicole Kidman’s character Sarah is involuntarily funny and awkward at the beginning of the movie, the character develops over the course of the movie. The Drover could not have been cast with a better actor than Hugh Jackman. He portrays this character so believingly well, that you start to think he was born to play this role. The Drover is a character as Australian as Crocodile Dundee, and real-life drovers shaped Australia since the first white settlers arrived.

The only thing that could mark this movie down is its length of 165 minutes. Since the story is split in two parts (one establishing the situation on the farm, and the other during the Darwin bombing), Baz Luhrmann could easily have turned this epic into two separate movies without losing the magic of it.

It is a great movie, but you might want to watch it on a long and rainy night.

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