Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Last Wave

(Black Rain, Australia, 1977)

Peter Weir followed up the international success of Picnic at Hanging Rock with this one. I met him, briefly, at the premier of The Year of Living Dangerously on the MGM lot in 1982. Always fun to drop a name!

The movie deals with conflicts between white and aboriginal culture in Australia. The Aboriginals believe there are two aspects to our lives: this one, which we call “reality,” and another, far more important thing, called the “dreamtime.” The story asks the question, What if they are right and we are wrong? Throughout, there are apocalyptic things happening. A deluge and huge chunks of ice fall out of a clear blue sky somewhere in the outback. Sydney is inundated by cyclonic weather, in the wrong season for it. There is a rain of frogs. Then the black rain of the original title.

Richard Chamberlain is a barrister who is assigned to defend five aboriginal men who have somehow caused the death of another Aboriginal. He drowned, it seems, but there is less than a cup of water in his lungs. Richard begins to believe that the man died for more mysterious reasons having to do with tribal traditions. (It seems that tribal matters are dealt with in an entirely different way down under. I don’t fully understand it. But then, I’m not meant to.) The man’s life slowly begins to come apart. He has predictive dreams, he begins to see visions. It’s all handled very well, very spooky. And the climax is left rather open-ended. He finds a secret tribal place deep in the sewers and finally stumbles out into the light, on the beach, and sees … what? The real last wave? Or only another hallucination? It left me a little unsatisfied, but only a little. Probably best that we leave it that way.