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APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE LAST WAVE (1977)

aka Black Rain

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Note: As this review discusses a film featuring Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal actors, we wish to inform any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers that this article contains the names and images of individuals who have died. No disrespect is intended. (Guidance taken from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.)

DIRECTED BY: Peter Weir

FEATURING: Richard Chamberlain, David Gulpilil, Nandjiwarra Amagula, Olivia Hamnett

PLOT: An Australian tax attorney takes defends a group of Aborigines accused of murder, and begins to recognize his dreams as apocalyptic visions; his clients confront him with his role in the coming cataclysm. 

Still from The Last Wave (1977)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: The Last Wave takes the already-mysterious and disorienting world of dreams and infuses them with Aboriginal mysticism, virtually guaranteeing dissociation and confusion in an audience which the filmmakers know will be predominantly made up of Western-thinking white people. If you find yourself struggling to understand what one man’s cryptic nightmares have to do with the historically unbalanced relationship between Australia’s native population and the Europeans who colonized the continent, then everything is going precisely according to plan.

COMMENTS: Peter Weir tells the story of a screening of his 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock, at which one prospective distributor reportedly threw his coffee cup at the screen in fury at having wasted two hours of his life on “a mystery without a goddamn solution!” The moment clearly stuck with Weir, and I suspect it was bouncing around in his mind as he began to conceive The Last Wave. It didn’t exactly persuade him to be more explicit about his intentions, but the film feels like it’s actually delving into the passions that fuel the rage over What Art Means.

Richard Chamberlain’s comfortable solicitor, David Burton, could very well be standing in for that cup-slinging critic. A white man in Australia, and a lawyer to boot, he is the very picture of upright, unquestioning conformity. With his wife, two kids, and backyard tennis court, he would seemingly have everything he could want in life. The last thing he needs are questions without answers. So all the strange dreams he’s been having about water, a mysterious Aboriginal man, and the end of the world are most unwelcome.

What follows is a chronicle of one man’s effort to provide an explanation for what seems inexplicable. He interprets the request to serve as counsel for a group of Aborigine defendants as a quest for a deeper truth. As David learns more about the cultural standards of the community that underlie the killing, he becomes increasingly determined to present the mystical elements as a solid defense. He instinctively knows he is expected to let these things go, but his desperate need for order and explanation override his sense of his place Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE LAST WAVE (1977)