So at a certain point I put all Peter Weir's early work on my queue, back from his Picnic at Hanging Rock and Year of Living Dangerously days, not from his later Dead Poet's Society days. And eventually this came and repaid my interest, as it turned out to be awesome!
So first we note from the credits that this features Gulpilil, from that other incredible Australian film, Walkabout (haven't seen Walkabout? See Walkabout). Then we see an Aboriginal elder painting tribal symbols on rocks by the ocean. Already we have noted that the photography is stunning. Then we join a bunch of white school kids playing outside. There is sudden lightning and thunder, although there isn't a cloud in the sky. Then it starts pouring. The teacher (who might have chosen a more appropriate blouse) herds all the kids and the goat inside. Then it starts with baseball-sized hail, shattering the window. The teacher moves all the kids away from the window, but leaves the goat over there in harm's way. So while you're sitting there like "WHY doesn't someone go save the goat?!" you are then interrupted by the sight of these two spectacular micro-rainbows. Do they really get those in Australia?
We now meet Richard Chamberlin as Dave, stuck in traffic in a pouring rainstorm in Sydney. All thoughts of goats in peril are washed away as you start to think "Wait, a global warming thriller? From back in 1977?" We also notice this really nice, hypnotic score that continues into the next scene, when Dave gets home and has dinner with his wife and two daughters. He sees water pouring down the stairs, and we're all worried it's coming in due to the freakish rainstorm. But no-- his daughters left the tub overflowing upstairs. That night Dave has a nightmare that there's an Aboriginal boy standing outside his house in the rain.
We now join an Aboriginal man breaking into a raw sewage plant and descending way down into its depths. Almost at the drains to the ocean, he meets Gulpulil as Chris. He gives Chris these ceremonial stones with symbols on them, but warns him "You'll die!" But Chris is not the one who needs to worry, as soon it's the delivery guy who is being stalked through the city. We see shadows on the walls pursuing him--it's a bit like Wolfen--and finally he comes upon a cab with a very dire-looking Aboriginal inside. He gets the death bone pointed at him, and he dies. Gee, I wish I had one of those for the subway.
So Dave gets called in to defend the group of Aboriginals who are accused of the killing, even though he is primarily a tax lawyer. He finds that the Aboriginals are not very forthcoming to him, and are generally distrustful of the European system of law. There is a whole background of how the Europeans moved in and pushed the Aboriginals off their land, much the British did to the Native Americans, and the whole European system of law is alien and somewhat irrelevant to them. Soon Dave is coming to believe that the murder may have been a tribal killing, although he is advised at every turn that all tribal activity has long been abolished.
SPOILERS > > >
So Dave's mind is growing ever more troubled. The region is experiencing nightly downpours, which they somehow convey is very strange, although we have no way of really knowing this. Dave has a dream that there are a ton of frogs outside (cane toads, perhaps?), then sees Chris (who he has never met) inside, holding out a tribal stone to him. The next day he meets Chris in person, and presses him about what Billy, the murder victim, did or saw. Chris won't tell him, but he says Billy saw things, though he won't say what. Chris says DAVE is in trouble. He says that Dave is a mulkurul, which is a powerful premonitory spirit. Dave receives a bit of confirmation when his father tells him that as a child, Dave used to have premonitory dreams. We find out later that as a child, Dave predicted his mother's death by a month. Dave forces Chris onto the stand at the trial, and pursues the line that the murder was a tribal killing. He loses the case.
Another huge rainstorm, and water coming down the stairs like in the early scene. Only this time, the house really is coming apart. Dave has had a vision while stuck in traffic that the whole city is underwater, and sees people floating, drowned. Chris shows later and tells Dave that he can show him what's going on now. He takes him into the raw sewage plant, and below, where there is an ancient Aboriginal ceremonial temple. He finds cave paintings showing a massive rain, then a huge wave, followed by another, even larger wave. He also finds a mask--of himself. He gets out, and goes to the sea, where he falls to his knees and sees a giant wave rolling in, presumably to destroy Sydney, as predicted in his visions. The end!
< < < SPOILERS END
Loved it. A lot of what makes this movie enjoyable is what can't be conveyed in this review, which is this eerie atmosphere that pervades it all, and suffuses everything with the sense that a larger spiritual happening, one not explicable by Western systems of law and logic, is at play. The whole thing is about the clash between the rational Western system and a more ancient spiritual law, with the sense that the Westerners have turned away from the spirits, and nature, and will soon be facing the consequences of their narrow worldview. And it's interesting to see a movie from way back then touch on global warming, which we tend to think of as a more recent concern.
And in addition to all that it's just plain intriguing and entertaining. An involving thriller with a sense of history and culture, with a lot of spooky elements to give one thrills, and an artistic sense that keeps your mind working. Worth watching.
Yes, it's intriguing and entertaining and fun, while also not being stupid.