I am often amazed at how well the art of film captures the issues of our day. Australia is no different. Though set in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the film touches on issues that are so very relevant: namely, the dynamics of a family unit and the need for boys to become men.First off, I loved the cinematography of this movie. I’ve never been to Australia, but my guess is the movie does the landscape justice. I work with someone who was born and raised in Australia. I commented to her that the panoramic views from the movie were so spectacular that I kept thinking they were fake backdrops. Her answer was, as I suspected, that it really is that beautiful down under.
As far as the family unit, the movie depicts a sort of makeshift family. Lady Sarah Ashley, played by Nicole Kidman, makes the journey from England to Australia only to meet up with Drover, played by Hugh Jackman. They fall in love and live together. This “arrangement” is further complicated by the fact Lady Ashley has unofficially adopted an aboriginal boy, Nullah.
The arrangement works for a while as they play house, so to speak. Drover comes and goes as he pleases and is sort of a father figure to Nullah, just as he is sort of a husband to Lady Ashley. But just like anything that is makeshift, it doesn’t stand the test of time or the pressures of real family dynamics.
Neil Fletcher, skillfully played by Lord of the Rings‘ David Wenhem, has seized power over the cattle industry and now wants to take over Lady Ashley’s Faraway Downs. He is a snake who will stop at nothing to have a full monopoly over the cattle business in the Northern territory. He schemes to kidnap Nullah and terrorize the ladies at Faraway Downs while Drover is away.
Lady Ashley desperately needs Drover’s commitment to stay with her not only for protection, but also to raise their “son.” He neither gives that commitment nor is able to due to past hurts. The “family” falls apart under the tremendous pressure, revealing what it really was: a loose commitment between two consenting adults. Lady Ashley and Drover part and Nullah is taken by the authorities to be put in a “proper” orphanage. The whole thing is a mess… sound familiar?
An underlying theme is also how the little boy Nullah will become a man, a question many in our generation never get answered. Nullah is half white and half aboriginal. He does not have a country or tribe. I’m not sure what the white Australian manhood ceremony is, if there is one, but the aborigines have a walkabout, a rite of passage where a boy must live in the wilderness to become a man.
Drover believes that Nullah should go on walkabout, to not only become a man but also to identify himself with the tribe of his birth mother. Lady Ashley disagrees saying, “He is only a boy.” The tension and inability to come to an agreement again points to the “family” dynamics or lack thereof, but also begs the question: “When does a boy, in the western culture (normally white), become a man?” Is there a rite of passage? If there isn’t, how do we know when a boy becomes a man? Big questions for then… and now.
In the end, Drover comes to his senses. Despite the hurts in his past he cannot live without Lady Ashley. Though we do not know for sure I like to think that they have a proper wedding and are now married (without quotes).
Despite Lady Ashley’s misgivings she lets Nullah go on walkabout, going through the rite of passage to become a man. Again, we do not know, but the undertones of the movie point to the fact that Nullah will become a great leader within his tribe, like his grandfather before him.
Though I am sure I could find statistics to show how much our culture and our nation struggles with the family unit and raising boys to become men, I think our experiences prove that this movie touches on issues that grip our society today. The one thing the movie doesn’t cover is how to overcome these issues, if they are something you live with or have lived through.
Maybe you are from a broken home or struggle with feeling like a boy stuck in a man’s body, like I do sometimes. This is probably no surprise given our website, but we believe that Jesus is the answer. The family of God, one that is made up of those who believe Jesus is Lord, is a strong bond. I wouldn’t give it up, though it isn’t perfect, for anything.
What better man to emulate than Jesus? Not the bearded-lady-in-a-sash-Jesus that is pictured in much of Christian art, but the construction worker who hung out with dock workers. He also did what our forefather Adam should have done, gave his life for his bride!
Australia portrayed well the brokenness that is this world we live in. Jesus is the wholeness that we need, down under or up over!