First things first: The Proposition is a brutally violent film. Even though I knew there was a lot of violence, it was still shocking at times to see the level and graphicness of that violence. Anyone planning on viewing this needs to steel themselves for what they will see.
That said, it is also an extremely engaging film. As brutal as it is, one cannot turn aside. There is a scene when someone is being flogged in public and the whole town is watching. It is obviously an appalling sight, yet, they can't bring themselves to turn away. Watching this film is a very similar experience.
The story is set in the Australian Outback in the lawless days of the 19th Century. The police captain for the area is out to "civilize this place." He is from
The Outback is desolate, hot and deadly. In this film it serves as the Hell the characters live in. One character, a bounty hunter, says that he believed in God prior to coming to
The Proposition had a feeling similar to Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven and the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. All these films deal with a strong moral ambivalence in the characters as well as the brutality of frontier life. All these films have a sense of justice, but question if that justice can come by way of violence or if violence will in fact negate any justice that is sought.
Charlie is the one in the middle of everything. He is the middle brother and has to choose which of his brothers will survive; he is set between the law and his brother; it is in him that the battle between right and wrong is most clearly played out. He has (in the back story) already shown that he is not as bad as Arthur. In fact he has quit being part of Arthur’s gang and took the somewhat innocent Mikey to get him away from Arthur's influence. It's interesting that both Captain Stanley and Arthur tell him (in the same words) that he was right to leave and take Mikey with him. He can no longer accept the violence of Arthur's world, but is forced to live by that violence to survive and to save Mikey.
But the struggle is not just in Charlie; the whole society is struggling between what
In some ways this conflict can also be seen in Stanley and his wife, Martha.
The battle between violence and civilization has certainly been played out in the Western genre through the years. Here that struggle gets what may be one of its most powerful (maybe too powerful) treatments. And as with Unforgiven, we are left with a sense of futility that as much as we might want to be peaceful, our natures will in the end defeat us and devour us.