Australia (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for some violence, a scene of sensuality, and brief strong language.
Length: 165 minutes
Grade: DCCD=D+
Budget: $130 million
Box Office: $227 million (50 U.S., 158 Intl., 19 DVD)

Written and directed by: Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet, Strictly Ballroom)
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Bryan Brown, and Brandon Walters.

At the beginning of World War II, an English aristocrat travels to Australia and finds her husband has been murdered and their property is in jeopardy from a local cattle baron. While there, she adopts a half-aboriginal child, falls in love with a drover, and vows to keep her ranch from being stolen by the wicked.

Entertainment Value: D
Here’s the basic problem. This movie can’t figure out whether it wants to be an epic, a classic film noir, or a ridiculous comedy, so it winds up being all three which means basically a terrible all three. Moulin Rouge was delightful because it leaned into its own absurdity. This movie pulls back just when it should lean forward, so it winds up being a bad (though beautifully shot) epic with ridiculous moments and a message far more serious than any element of the movie is capable of supporting.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence C-, Language C, Illegality C
There are a couple of scenes of medium sensuality and implied sex, there are several scenes involving drunkenness, and there is moderate profanity. But the real issue here is violence, including murder, fist-fighting, and war violence.

Significant Content: C
Big business is bad, especially big cattle business. Races are different with importantly different traditions, but all equally valuable. Racism is evil. Christian missionaries are particularly bad because they turn natives into little Westerners in an effort to civilize them. Men need to form an identity by doing something, and this often drives them to do evil things in order to succeed at their goals. Women can be tough, too. It’s vital to know the difference between feeling something passionately and actually wielding enough power to do something about it. Aboriginals have real magic and telepathic powers. The most important thing in life is your story.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
If someone gets up to perform Amazing Grace, and every note is off-key, do you praise her because the lyrics are great? Everything in this movie was a little off, a problem which was not made better by the extreme length of the thing. I almost quit watching it several times, but I let my wife persuade me that we shouldn’t be quitters. She was wrong. This movie might have been quite good if it had been made 50 years ago, but it wasn’t…in both senses.

Discussion Questions:
~When Fletcher tells Lady Ashley that pride isn’t power, what does he mean? Why is this an important principle to remember in life? What is he saying about the relationship between justice and strength? Does he turn out to be right in this movie?
~What attracts Lady Ashley to Drover? What attracts him to her? Does their romance seem plausible?
~Lady Ashley tells the servants to not tell Drover when Fletcher threatens her. Why not? Was this smart on her part?
~This movie portrays Christian missionaries in a very bad light for separating children from their cultural roots and trying to foist Westernism on them. Is this a fair criticism? Does it apply only to orphanages or does it apply to missionary work in a broader sense as well? What aspects of Nullah’s heritage would be compatible with Christ and what parts not?
~Do women, including mothers, have a difficult time understanding men? What elements of this are shown in this movie? Is it possible for women to overcome such a difficulty?
~How important is it to feel like you belong to a particular tradition or group? What groups or traditions do you belong to?
~What do you think of Drover’s claim that anything you own in this world can be taken away from you, but your story is yours forever? How might this fit with Christianity?
~The movie opens with a fist-fight. What do you think of the validity of such a means of dispute resolution?
~How important do you think it is to continue making films which tell us that black people are humans, too?

Overall Grade: D+
I really don’t recommend you waste almost three hours on this movie, but if you already have, then I hope that these questions are useful for your discussion. There are good reasons this film’s only Oscar nod was for costumes.

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