My guess is that most of us don’t really know that much about the actual country of Australia. Sure, EVERYONE knows that it is a prison island for prisoners and everyone there is a criminal without exception. And there’s the whole “Foster’s, Australian for Coor’s Lite” thing. Oh, and there was that brief blip in human herstory when Silverchair was a band people knew about and Ben Lee was dating Claire Danes. Remember Silverchair! Remember Claire Danes! Other than that, everyone holds their own collection of random Australiana: Crocodile Dundee II, the kookaburra song, that one magic mountain in the postcards, Sydney Opera House, Kangaroo Jack, and that’s it. Australia: The Movie, starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, and directed by Baz Luhrmann, is a sweeping historical epic depicting a chapter in Australia’s history that most of us probably know nothing about. And that’s kind of the problem. Because no offense to Australia and her mighty prison population, but WHAT A BORING CHAPTER!
In 1939, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) travels to Australia where her husband has a cattle ranch that she is going to try and get him to sell, but before she can do that, he is murdered. Then she meets “The Drover” (Hugh Jackman). Then she fires a villain and there’s this whole “cattle intrigue” plot that clearly plays on how much we all love and are fascinated by rival cattle business at the onset of World War II. There is also a mixed-race aboriginal/white child who is the movie’s narrator. He always seems very wide-eyed and enthusiastic as if he does not realize that this movie is two hours and 45 minutes long. Lady Ashley likes the little boy even though everyone else in Australia hates him because of RACISM. She fires this one guy who later turns out to be the Final Boss. (Speaking of boss, everyone calls Lady Ashley “Ms. Boss,” because, again, of RACISM and also CLASS WARFARE.) There is a four hour long “action” sequence involving driving cattle across a desert to the coast and then racing the cows against some other cows onto a boat. Afterwards, everyone goes to a fancy ball where Lady Ashley starts to stir up trouble about all the racism going on and Hugh Jackman shows up in a jacket and everyone is like “collective gasp.”
Now they are in love.
So Lady Ashley stays in Australia instead of going back to England, and they all move to the ranch and have a ranch. Nullah, the little boy, wants to go on “walkabout” with his grandpa, who is a magical shaman. Lady Ashley doesn’t want him to go. Hugh Jackman says he is an aboriginal and it’s important for him to do it. They have a fight that results in Hugh Jackman saying “I’ll be back in six months,” which is amazing. I didn’t know you could do that! Love means never having to say you’ll be back any sooner than six months from now. The little boy goes on walkabout, but then he is arrested by the police? Out in the wilderness? If everyone in Australia is a prisoner, why do they need to arrest anyone? To take them to Prison Prison, I guess. Anyway, some stuff happens and basically now it is World War II and for some (racist) reason they won’t just let Nicole Kidman adopt the little boy, and instead they ship him off to Mission Island with the other street urchins. This part is confusing because if no one cares whether these children live or die, then why don’t they just let him live with her? But so, the thing is, Mission Island is right in the path of the Japanese, and so they bomb the FUCK out of Mission Island and then they bomb everything else, too. For awhile it seems like Ms. Boss is dead, but she’s not dead, it’s actually the villain’s wife who has died in the bombing raid, which I think somehow we are supposed to not mind too much since he is the villain but she always seemed like a good person? Confusing! It is always weird when you are supposed to be glad that one person is still alive when it comes at the expense of another person. Meanwhile, Hugh Jackman realizes that he does love that little boy, so he steals a boat or something and goes to Mission Island with the bartender (long story) and they rescue the children, who managed to hide from the bombs? I guess if the bombs don’t see you then they can’t blow you up. But there are Japanese soldiers on the island. Uh oh! And then there is the most amazing part of the movie when the best black friend of Hugh Jackman, whose name you will remember is “The Drover,” because of how he droves cattle, sacrifices himself for the good of the group but not before saying TWICE “go on, Drover, drove them home,” talking about the children? Oh boy.
Everyone is reunited and it seems like they are going to be one big happy family. Except that the villain decides that the little mixed race boy has been the cause of all his troubles, so he decides to shoot him. Fair enough. (Oh, P.S. the villain is also the little boy’s secret father no duh. And he murdered Lady Ashley’s husband. And he murdered his father-in-law to take over his cattle business. He is a real jerk!) But before he can do that, the magic witch doctor aboriginal grandfather throws a spear through his chest. Phew. And then when Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman are driving back to the ranch, they stop to get some water, and the magic witch doctor aboriginal shaman grandfather takes Nullah with him. And that’s The End.
A childless, unmarried couple standing in the middle of the outback (no steakhouseo).
Australia is not the Worst Movie of All Time by any stretch of the imagination. It’s overly long, quite a bit melodramatic, and full of awful green screen effects:
But for the most part it’s just a big budget Hollywood movie directed by a big budget Hollywood director (from Australia) starring two big budget Hollywood movie stars (both from Australia). And I guess it did what it was supposed to do, because according to Wikipedia it is the second highest grossing Australian film of all time, after Crocodile Dundee, which probably cost 10 times as much to make just kidding. Actually, that’s kind of an embarrassing fact, that a movie made by three of Australia’s biggest hometown heroes of all time with an enormous budget that is CALLED Australia still made less money than Crocodile Dundee. Embarrassing, of course, if the sociopathic criminals that make up the entire population of Australia could feel any kind of human emotions.
Australia does feature one thing that always confuses me, which is make believe herstorical characters who show tremendous bravery in the face of institutionalized racism, or whatever. (See also: the trailer for that upcoming movie The Help.) Like, I know that in our society’s darkest moments, there were decent white people who fought for what they believed in, but when you make one up out of thin air then there’s not really any courage involved, you know? Like, Lady Ashley didn’t actually try and go against the most powerful people in Australia and adopt a mixed-race aboriginal boy because she didn’t exist and he didn’t exist and it didn’t happen. Not to mention the weirdness of how these movies work so hard to prove that white people are actually pretty great when you think about it, rather than the far more historical FACT of how awful white people are when you think about it.
On top of all of this is the simple fact that I don’t feel like I really understand anything about the country of Australia any better now than I did before watching the movie. Like, I guess if I didn’t know that they were also involved in World War II, I would know that now. But I kind of already knew that because of the WORLD part in the war’s name. And if someone were to ask me now, “did they have cows in Australia in the 1940s?” I would be able to say “I think so, unless the movie Australia made up the part about cows to make their movie more exciting for all the cow-heads.”
But as far as I am concerned, it is still the prison island where they call women “Sheilas” annnnd that’s about it. Koalas? Is that an Australian thing? Let’s say koalas, but they weren’t even in the movie! A rare miss, Australia. Needed more koalas.