Other Titles • The Last Wave • Die Letzte Flut (1977)
Synopses for The Last Wave (1977)
Nominally a supernatural thriller, Peter Weir's third feature resonates with the director's underlying fascination with the collision between the modern, rational world and the primordial mysteries of older belief systems. In The Last Wave, the keys to an enigmatic murder, as well as baffling disturbances in the weather, are gradually revealed to an Australian lawyer (Richard Chamberlain) within the shadowy, nomadic culture of aborigines living in and around Sydney who until now were presumed to be assimilated into its modern--and white--social fabric. In the process, Weir brings us toward an apocalyptic climax that is foreshadowed with a haunting series of events that cohere around water imagery, from an improbable drowning on dry land to downpours from cloudless skies, sudden hailstorms on the sere Australian land, and ghostly invasions of frogs.
The film's power (as well as what skeptics might regard as its pretension) emanates from Weir's stately, deliberate pace. Violating most of the conventions of suspense, he unravels his mystery with an unsettling calm underscored by its sparse soundtrack, which replaces conventional orchestral cues with the low, brooding rattle and hum of the didgeridoo. Instead of sudden camera movements or quick cuts, Weir circles his subjects almost diffidently. The stillness of that approach only amplifies the mounting unease Chamberlain's character, David Burton, feels as he steps for the first time beyond the bland safety of his privileged life and into the mystical world of the native Australians. Taking on the defense of the aborigines suspected of murdering the drowned man through tribal magic, his own beliefs are tested by the suspects' evident, intuitive connections to nature.
Chamberlain's Anglicized performance seems fussy and epicene, which only heightens the quiet intensity and watchful grace conveyed by the two aborigines, Chris Lee (David Gulpilil) and the shaman, Charlie (Nandjiwarra Amagula), who give Burton his first glimpse of their culture's "dreamtime" and the potent symbolism it contains. --Sam Sutherland
Richard Chamberlain stars as Australian lawyer David Burton, who takes on the defense of a group of aborigines accused of killing one of their own. He suspects the victim has been killed for violating a tribal taboo, but the defendants deny any tribal association. Burton, plagued by apocalyptic visions of war, slowly realized his own involvement with the aborigines…and their prophecies.
David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) is a young Sydney tax lawyer with a wife, two young daughters, and a very comfortable suburban existence. His life takes a strange turn, however, when he is asked to defend a group of Aborigines who have been accused of murder. The mysterious young men are maddeningly reticent when it comes to discussing the circumstances, though, and he finds that factors beyond his comprehension are involved when he begins having disturbing watery visions and ghostly sightings of Chris (David Gulpilil, WALKABOUT), one of the men involved in the murder. Already in over his head, David begins an odyssey involving strange natural occurrences in downtown Sydney, the Aboriginal concept of "dream time," and what seems to the end of the world as we know it.
Peter Weir infuses his film with a spooky sense of dread that gives the viewer the sensation of entering a private world. Through a combination of Chamberlain's restrained performance and a handful of minimal yet well-chosen visual effects, THE LAST WAVE is able to create a believable aura of the impending apocalypse. With its thoughtful pitting of modern society against an ancient culture, it stands as one of the touchstones of 1970s Australian cinema.
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