The Last Wave

Dir: Peter Weir, 1977. Starring: Richard Chamberlain, Olivia Hamnett, David Gulpilil. Foreign/Mystery.
The Last Wave

In Peter Weir's atmospheric film The Last Wave, we are brought into a world of Aboriginal witchcraft, dream reality, and disorientation; similar to his film Picnic at Hanging Rock, Peter Weir offers few clear cut clues and loads of mystery, creating a wholly mesmerizing viewing experience.

The film opens up with a scene from a school house in a rural area of the Australian desert. A sudden violent storm begins outside and, as a young boy is looking out the window, a heavy hail begins and a large chunk of ice crashes through the window, slashing the boy in the neck. During this scene we are treated to a montage of images from the city, showing gridlocked traffic and people running from the heavy rain of the freak storm.

Soon the story takes us to an altercation between a group of Aborigines at a pub. One of the men begins to frantically run from the others, through a sewer and then into an alley, where he comes face to face with a bearded Aborigine. The chased man backs away in horror as the bearded man points a charm made of bone in his direction. The chased man then collapses into the street, dead.

Four of the men who chased the man from the bar are caught with the body. The coroner, unable to explain the cause of death, requests that the case be ruled as a homicide. The Australian legal system provides an attorney for the defense of the Aborigines, a man named Richard Burton (played by Richard Chamberlain), a respected lawyer who typically specializes in corporate taxation. Despite his inexperience with criminal law, he decides to take the case anyway.

It is soon revealed that Richard Burton has been having nightmares and he is unable to sleep well at night. Furthermore, he is shocked to find that one of the Aborigines he is set to defend appeared in one of his dreams before he ever saw him. Richard soon begins to get the idea that his dreams are prophetic and that they are possibly the only way he can solve the case, given that the Aborigines are not being forthcoming with information. Richard finds himself steeped in tribal mysteries, of which he plays a major, and unexpected, part. The Last Wave does a very good job of blurring the line between dreams and reality. There are points in the film where the viewer is not given a clear answer as to whether Richard is dreaming or really experiencing something, and this follows through till the very end of the film. Much is left open to the viewer's interpretation, only shadows of plot or vague hints are provided. This movie also makes the viewer do some work while watching the film, as there are long stretches of silences sprinkled with dialogue; if you let your attention stray for half a second you may miss some crucial information. Definitely not a film to be watched casually; you need to be glued to the screen.

The imagery is fantastic, using camera tricks and juxtaposed images, the film holds us in its semi-state of reality. Water is a constant theme: a car radio gushing water from its tape deck, several angles of a wave crashing from underneath, and rain, rain, and more rain. The tribal imagery tends to pop out of the screen as well: runes, magic stones, and cave paintings all seem to cut their way through Richard's mundane reality. And all of this is rendered in a tasteful yet distinctly 1970s style.

Another thing to mention is the soundtrack. You can almost forget the soundtrack is existent at all, since there is so much silence implemented in this film, but then it does appear as dark brooding synth chords at key scenes, very tasteful and actually very listenable (The Last Wave is now a soundtrack I've begun to search for), also there is the most frightening didgeridoo sound I have ever heard throughout the reality bending scenes in the movie. At first it's like, "What's that creepy sound?" and then it gets more and more intense, almost to an animalistic roar. I have a newfound respect for the didge as probably one of the most unholy sounding instruments ever created.

Many people will have some difficulty with The Last Wave. As I have mentioned, it takes an iron clad attention span, as well as a healthy imagination to deal with the disjointed and free flowing semi-plot. But if you are not the type of person that is driven crazy by open endings, or if you appreciate movies as environments, rather than feeling a need for the story to culminate in some traditional fashion, then The Last Wave has much to offer to those seeking an otherworldly viewing experience.

Posted by:
Jonah Rust
Jul 27, 2009 11:48am
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