Friday, December 5, 2014

Wake in Fright (1971) 2.5 of 4

** this review contains spoilers throughout **

I thought this would be a horror movie, but it's more of a melodrama.  The movie shows the Outback (the alternate title) has a negative affect on the men who live there.  Eking out their living thousands of miles from (their) civilization, the white men in this film resort to alcohol, gambling, cruelty, and violence.  It's a bit like Straw Dogs, but here the conflict is mostly internal.
I'll also compare it to The Colony: in that film, people descend to animal level from hunger and cold.  Here, it's heat and isolation that does it.
John Grant is a young schoolteacher, essentially an indentured servant until he works off his government debt for his education.  He thinks he's better than the working-class men who inhabit the Outback, but he learns he's much the same, under the right conditions.
He's on his way to Sydney for his 6-week vacation, but never gets there.  All it takes is a taste of an addictive gambling game to start him on a 6-week bender, before he limps back to the tiny community where he works.
Donald Pleasance plays an alcoholic doctor who claims to like living in the Outback because it's where he can live honestly, without pretense.  Unlike John, he seems to have retained his sexual functioning, with one of the few women we see.
The film is infamous for its scenes of kangaroos being slaughtered.  According to the extras, the filmmakers photographed one of the nightly kangaroo hunts, the meat destined for American pets.  The footage is disturbing, like the film.  
The film is striking to look at, as is almost any film photographed in the wilds of Australia.  Still, the tone is one of self-loathing: male self-loathing, Australian self-loathing, colonialist self-loathing.  It reminded me of other films that portray men as self-destructive wrecks, such as The Ice Storm, and perhaps Killer of Sheep, although that film is about an oppressed minority.
In its hopelessness and its barren views, Wake in Fright  also recalls such American films of the period as The Last Picture Show and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

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