This is a movie you should see on the big screen. We rented the DVD, and it worked, but I suspect only half as well as it could have. It’s an epic, and it’s meant to be one. Think of Gone with the Wind in the Australian outback. Epics usually span generations, or at least a lifetime. This is an epic that spans perhaps two or three years, so it’s a bit unusual for such a movie.
This is basically a cowboy story. There is a society woman from England who goes to Australia to join her husband, only to find him murdered. She now owns the ranch, and with a ragtag band of cattle hands who are woefully untrained for the occasion, the has to drive a herd of 1,500 cattle to the sea for shipment with the army. There is also a bad rancher who rules the land, the law and the money with a corrupt and iron fist. He and his stooges make it hard for the good gang to do the drive.
The year is 1939, Hitler has invaded Poland and World War II has erupted. Eventually it makes its way into Australia. When I think of WWII, I think of cold battles in Eastern Europe. I think of foggy woods trampled by huge tanks. I don’t think of Australian deserts and cattle country. It gives meaning to the term ‘world war’ and it reminds us that people suffered incredibly in all corners of the world. If you are separated from a loved one, whether in a Nazi concentration camp or on a ship in the South Pacific or in the deserts of Australia, it is terribly painful.
Besides it being a cowboy story with good and bad guys, and a war epic, it’s also a love story, showing us how the rough cattle driver can fall in love with the English lady, one small step at a time.
Finally, it a story about racism. Nullah is the half-breed boy of an aboriginal woman and a white cowboy. His grandfather is central to the story, and we see the old man in a loin cloth on the top of many a mountain with a bonfire behind him, singing, dancing and channeling thoughts to this grandson. The Australians treated the aboriginals like subhumans during that period, like the South Africans and Americans treated their black neighbors and countrymen. The boy has a heritage that drives him. He seems clairvoyant at times. We are not sure if his grandfather is real or imagined, but we accept the magic.
The movie has a lot of story lines, a lot of lessons to learn, some history to absorb that I didn’t know about and a depiction of another country’s injustice done to its aborinial inhabitants. All the pieces don’t fit together however. It seems unreal at times, fake at other times, and always a movie. I was never fully drawn in. I was always watching a movie. Don’t ask me what the difference is. It just was.