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Richard Chamberlain is David Burton, a tax lawyer living in Sydney,
Australia who is drawn into a murder trial defending five Aboriginal men
accused of murdering a fellow native in Peter Weir's apocalyptic 1977
thriller The Last Wave. Taking up where Picnic at Hanging Rock left off, the
film goes deeper into exploring the unknown and, in the process, shows the
gulf between two cultures who live side by side but lack understanding of
each others culture and traditions. Weir shows how white society considers
the native beliefs to be primitive superstitions and believes that since
they are living in the cities and have been "domesticated", their tribal
laws and culture no longer apply.
From the start, Burton is drawn deeper and deeper into a strange web of visions and symbols where the line between real time and "dream time" evaporates. Water plays an important symbolic role in the film from the opening sequence in which a sudden thunder and hailstorm interrupts a peaceful school recess to Burton's discovery that his bathtub is overflowing and water is pouring down his steps. As violent and unusual weather continue with episodes of black rain and mud falling from the sky, the contrast between the facile scientific explanations of the phenomenon and the intuitive understanding of the natives is made clear. Burton and his wife Annie (Olivia Hamnet) study books about the Aborigines and learn about the role of dreams in the tribal traditions. When he invites one of his clients Chris Lee (David Gulpilil) to his home for dinner, he is disturbed to find that he is the subject of an inquiry by Chris and his friend Charlie (Nadjiwarra Amagula), an enigmatic Aborigine sorcerer involved with the defendants. As Burton's investigation continues, his clients make his work difficult by refusing to disclose the true events surrounding the murder.
After Chris starts to appear in his dreams, Burton is convinced that the Aborigine was killed in a tribal ritual because "he saw too much", though Chris refuses to acknowledge this in court. Burton, becoming more and more troubled by a mystery he cannot unravel, says to his stepfather priest, "Why didn't you tell me there were mysteries?" This is a legitimate question but, according to the reverend, the Church answers all mysteries. Burton knows now that he must discover the truth for himself and enters the tribal underground caves. Though we do not know for certain what is real and what is a dream, he comes face to face with his deepest fears in a haunting climax that will leave you pondering its meaning into the wee hours of the morning.
In this period of history in which native Hopi and Mayan prophecies predict the "end of history" and the purification of man leading to the Fifth World, The Last Wave, though 25 years old, is still timely. The Aborigines are portrayed as a vibrant culture, not one completely subjugated by the white man, yet I am troubled by the gnawing feeling that we are looking in but not quite seeing. Weir has opened our eyes to the mystery that lies beyond our consensual view of reality, but he perpetuates the doom-orientation that sees possibility only in terms of fear, showing nature as a dark and uncontrollable power without a hint of the spiritual beauty that lives on both sides of time.
"Pretentious" seems a popular word amongst reviewers of this
thought-provoking film. HOW I wonder would "they" have made it, given the
opportunity? I am saved from further contemplation along these lines by
fact that Peter Weir made it.....and rather well, I hasten to
A worthy successor to PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK in as much as the viewer is left with his or her own interpretation of what they have just seen. Events occuring in an everyday environment but where the line between fantasy and reality is so blurred, no lens can be found to bring up a sharp focus. It is a disturbing film which highlights and pays homage to the Aboriginal dreamtime.
Chamberlain, in one of his best roles (made even better when you reminisce about the celluloid embarrassments BELLS, KING SOLOMON'S MINES and NIGHT OF THE HUNTER) plays a hot-shot Australian attorney (complete with DR KILDARE accent) who is called upon to defend a small group of Tribal Aborigines on what appears to be an "open and shut case" murder charge. Initially he finds his clients anything but co-operative and seemingly disinterested by the threat of the white man's legal system. Aspects of the case begin to disturb him and he is drawn into a world of ancient beliefs, symbolic half-lives, a very dimension that causes him to question his own comfortable existence and purpose. Central to his dreams is one of the Defendants (brilliantly played by Australian actor David Gulpilil) who appears existentially, perhaps a disembodied spirit (?), holding out to him a sacred stone with ancient cabalistic markings. He learns that the aboriginal man who was killed was the victim of tribal law and that he must not, cannot, intervene.
The nightmare spills over into real-time...black rain, (we have already witnessed hailstones crashing into a tiny outback school from cloudless skies!) water prophetically leaking through his roof and cascading down the stairs. Visions of a great flood. He becomes obssessed with seeking the truth, not only of what is going on around him, but who he is? The scene where he confronts the Head Tribal Elder in his inner city squat is totally chilling. The viewer's own close and comfortable existence is challenged and put up for re-evaluation here.
Eventually and too late of course, he stumbles across the truth. But IS it? Has he been played for a fool? Has the audience? Much was made at the time of the film's release, that the final scenes were a total cop-out. I even thought as much myself at the opening night. Amazing what a almost a quarter of a century's personal development and insight can do for you. Like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, this film needs to be seen at different stages of your life to appreciate what Peter Weir knew and was trying to say in 1977.
I am a big fan of this film and may not be able to make a coherent case for
it, especially after reading some of the lukewarm comments some of the
viewers offer. I agree that some of the themes could have been developed
better, and think that the ending smacks of a "Planet of the Apes" solution
to a mystery, yet this film is superb for its relentless atmosphere of
Perhaps I associate this film with the strangeness of the 1970's, when Pyramid Power, UFO cults, and interest in occult phenomena occupied much of popular culture. Weir plays on the apocalyptic feelings of many in that decade with his shots of mud falling from the skies and other phenomena. One of my all time favorite scenes is when Charlie the shaman visits the urbane upper-middle class household of Richard Chamberlain et al. and asks to see the family photo album. I still get chills up my spine thinking of that one.
An element that I enjoyed is the counter-intuitive idea that "there are no tribal aborigines" living in Australian cities...they are all assimilated into the European worldview. This opinion, asserted by the most prominent aborigine in the movie, is subverted bit by bit until the very structure of European logic (as represented by the lawyer Chamberlain) is completely undermined by the end of the movie. Another amazing touch is the juxtaposition of the aboriginal sacred cave complex and what the Europeans are using it for, and Chamberlains descent into all that darkness.
Don't try viewing this one on a commercial channel, it will make very little sense broken up in pieces. Rent it, suspend disbelief a little, and enjoy.
"The Last Wave" is one of those movies that relies heavily on the mind.
The title refers to the Aboriginal doomsday theory: there will be one
last wave that wipes out everything.
David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) is a Sydney lawyer hired to defend some Aborigines accused of murder. Around this time, there has been unusually heavy rainfall in Australia. While defending the Aborigines, David learns the last wave theory, and begins to wonder whether it's just mythology.
The movie's last sequence is a metaphor for descending into the depths of one's mind. Peter Weir created a perplexing, but thought-provoking, movie. Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil (whom you may have seen in "Walkabout", "Crocodile Dundee" and "Rabbit-Proof Fence") provides an interesting supporting role as one of the defendants.
If you get a chance, watch the "making of" feature on the DVD. Peter Weir explains some of the film's undertones, some of which relate to Richard Chamberlain's background.
This supernatural Peter Weir thriller is truly one of the most haunting
and fascinating movies ever seen. Richard Chamberlain does his best
performance here as the Australian lawyer who defends a group of young
Aborigins accused of murder. As he gets closer on the case, he
discovers more about the main defendant, Chris, and not least about
himself. Chris tells him that he is a Mulkurul, which appear to be a
race of supernatural beings that lived in Australia thousands of years
ago. At the same time, extraordinary high rainfall seems to confirm the
Aboriginal prophecy of the coming of the LAST WAVE, the one that will
drown the world.
The dream sequences and the supernatural effects enhance this movie and make it a spectacular experience. Olivia Hamnett and David Gulpilil are solid in the supporting roles, as well as the chap with the difficult name who plays Charlie, the old Aborigin who can turn into an owl. The climax and the ending don't disappoint, in contrast to many other supernatural thrillers who fall flat after a promising hour or so. However, this can not be called a pure thriller. It is a drama as well and talks about spirituality and spiritual identity in the modern world. A masterful work by Peter Weir, the master of visually stunning dramas.
Peter Weir's first international success, THE LAST WAVE is an effective chiller with a fascinating back story based on Aboriginal myth. Richard Chamberlain is quite good as a defense lawyer whose life becomes increasingly unmoored from reality as he delves into a murder case involving Aboriginal tribal rivalries. David Gulpilil plays one of the suspects, who does his best to guide Chamberlain thru the realm of 'Dreamtime', an alternate reality/timeline central to native Australian history and tribal custom. Heavy on atmosphere, deliberately ambiguous in plotting, the film builds to an unsettling finale which is somewhat diminished by poor effects, probably due to budgetary limitations. Nevertheless an intriguing film whose overall impression of mystery and dread lurking just below the surface of what we perceive as 'reality' will stay with you.
I notice a lot of viewers are trying to 'understand' The Last Wave. Sometimes...understanding is 'the booby prize'. In an age of in-your-face special effects and fast action that negates thinkiing at all, this film is brilliant. Peter Weir is truly a remarkable film maker. He does something so few director's do anymore. He allows us to be involved with the story...to think for ouselves. Same as with Picnic At Hanging Rock, which I have to watch at least once a year, The Last Wave allows ME to think for myself.
'The Last Wave' is far more than the sum of its parts. It's not merely
a disaster film, not simply an exploration into Australian Aboriginal
spirituality, and certainly more than a simple court drama.
Writer/Director Peter Weir manages to take these elements to the next
level to produce a truly effective and thought-provoking film with the
same eerie atmosphere he gave to 'Picnic At Hanging Rock' two years
earlier, that you will continue to remember years later.
When lawyer David Burton (Chamberlain) is called to defend Chris Lee (Gulpilil) over the death of an Aboriginal for which he may or may not be directly responsible, he finds himself not merely struggling to get the truth from Lee, but making sense of what he hears when it does come. As with the Aboriginal belief that there are two worlds - the everyday and the Dreamtime, the truth exists on two completely different levels, with ramifications more disastrous than Burton could ever have imagined.
No doubt the reason why 'Picnic At Hanging Rock' is better remembered is because of its enduring mystery. We are led along the same path but forced to find answers for ourselves. In 'The Last Wave', we can piece everything together by the end of the film. However, even with all the information, we have to choose how much of it we want to believe, because the film takes us beyond the borders of our normal realities.
On the production side, Weir uses his budget to great effect, progressively building a sense of doom in everything from soft lighting, to heavy rain, to good use of sound. The incidental music is unobtrusive, never trying to be grandiose. Richard Chamberlain manages to convey the bafflement the audience would doubtless feel as he tries to unravel the mystery. David Gulpilil excellently portrays a man trapped between two worlds, wanting to do the right thing, but afraid because he already knows the ending.
Put all these things together, and you have a perfect example of why David Weir is a familiar name in cinema thirty years on. Strongly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Peter Weir's early films were devoted to uniquely Australian themes
which he tried to make universal. Without a clear understanding of the
aboriginal culture some of the strange things which happen in this
film, fall truly into the horror genre a la Steven King,and that is
unfortunate. A wealthy Australian tax lawyer, born in South America,
with a uniquely American accent (played very well by Richard
Chamberlain), watches as his world slowly falls apart.
His day of reckoning begins when he has to defend six aboriginal defendants accused of killing another man after a disagreement in a bar. Not normally responsible for court trails, Chamberlain fights court, his own counsel (in Aussie trials there are usually two lawyers involved in the defense) and even his family, Chamberlain's dreams, the unnatural weather and the eventual discovery of tribal secrets the men tried to protect...leads Chamberlain to his eventual downfall...
He is to the tribe, a bridge, a man from the East....(across the water from Sydney who can and does live in the dream world these aboriginals believe in...) Chamberlain's dreams came true as a child...and now he sees time and time again....Sydney.. under water....
There is here a clash of cultures....As one lawyer mentions..we all but obliterated the Aboriginal presence in the city...there are no tribes left...and in the end...Weir sides with the native...earlier culture...in a sense trying to revive it ...by filming an Aboriginal myth come to life....and so at least in the dream world....Chamberlain's life ends....when the last wave...a huge tidal wave crashes against the shore....With that perhaps as a symbol.. the culture of these few tribesmen and those who understand them...begins and ends with the fate of Chamberlain...
I liked the film....but its not an easy one to understand...nor is it Weir's best effort....Gallipoli, Witness and the Trueman Show are all better and deal with the theme of mystic communication so much better.. But this film was an Australian Right of passage and a mourning of the loss of Aboriginal culture...well acted and superbly written. 8 of 10
****SPOILER ALERT**** All throughout Australia the summer turned into a
deluge of rain and hail stones the size of baseballs that was causing
havoc in coastal cities like Sydney. It's under these hectic conditions
that tax lawyer David Burton, Richard Chamberlain,got involved in a
case, as a defense attorney, involving the death of a local aborigine
who was found dead outside a Sydney bar.
Having five fellow aborigines arrested for Billy Cormans,Athol Compton, death it's determined by the police coroner that Billy died of drowning not by violence even though he had bruises on his neck and shoulders. Yet the court decided to prosecute the five for his death charging them with manslaughter instead of murder.
David defending the five gets no help from them in their defense with the accused assailants opting to remain quite and keep what happened to Billy to themselves and take what's coming to them from the court. One of the defendants Chris, David Gulpili, begin to somehow invades David's dreams as if he want's to tell him what was really behind Billy's death.
David at first not taking his dreams of Chris seriously begins to sense that their real when he meet him at the courthouse. Chris confirms David's dreams by showing him a strange looking black rock that David saw Chris have in his dreams. Later meeting Chris and, what turns out to be an aborigine shaman, Charlie (Nandjiwarna Amagula) who came to his house that evening David is told that he, like Charlie, has spiritual powers that he inherited from his mother's grandfather. Those powers will reveal to him the future that has to do with the strange weather conditions that are flooding the Australian continent. The earth,Chris tells David, is going through a gigantic cleansing cycle with the old world about to be washed away and the new world ready to take it's place.
David is confused about what both Chris and Charlie are telling him but as the rains continue to increase and the ocean waves start to rise he feels that something terrible is going to happen. David want's to know if it's all aborigine folklore or there's some scientific facts, or logic, behind their end of world-like revelations.
By now it's obvious that both Chris and Charlie are members of an aborigine tribe right in the heart of modern Sydney. That alone can get Chris off, as well as his four friends, for the murder of Billy. Since the Australian government will not prosecute tribal aborigines, leaving any justice to be done by the tribes themselves. Still Chris refuses to admit he's a member of a native tribe and he and his four friends are convicted of manslaughter in Billy's death with the sentences to be handed down by the judge within days.
David now determined to find out what was the reason for Chris' silence, and why Billy had to die, is taken by Chris to the scene of the crime. It's there that David finds out that Billy betrayed Chris' tribe members by going there with Billy not being a member of Chris's aborigine tribe. It's also revealed to David that he himself has some kind of spiritual connection with the Austrailan aborigines as both Charlie and his step-father Rev. Burton,David Parslow, told him.
The stage is now set for the great and final cleansing cycle that David's been seeing in both his night-time dreams and day-time visions. It comes in the form of a massive tidal wave rolling out of the Pacific Ocean into the Australian coast city of Sydney and then submerges the entire continent.
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