Saturday, December 27, 2008

Luhrmann's Oz and The Moving Castle

Two movies this weekend.

The first was Howls Moving Castle on SBS Television late on Friday night (26 dec 08). An award winning film in the style of Japanese Animé, this lovely little story, blending fantasy and period, captured my imagination.

There is enough in the sub-text under the basic plot to have one thinking and musing on it long after the movie is done. There are themes about the substance of the moment, the quality of life even at great age, energy, vitality, spirit, love, honour, peace and extraordinary courage under difficult circumstances. The heroine is plucky and spirited, brave and big hearted and struggles with her sense of place in the world until Love fills her heart and the focus shifts within her. The hero is beautiful, wise and strong but tends to hide his deep emotional vulnerability from the world. There is evil which must be repelled and thwarted. There is friendship, good humour, magic and forgiveness. The main theme is "Sense of Place" and where one belongs, at least for me anyway.

The second movie I saw was "Australia" by Baz Luhrmann. This movie, which will undoubtedly win some kind of award I guess, is a pretty basic story told "old-style" like the Hollywood romantic fantasy epics from the "Golden Age" of movies. The characters are painted in broad brushstrokes and are larger than life, but the story carries well and it is easy to lose yourself inside of it.

There are also sub-texts in this story, strongly led by the aboriginal cast who bring the spiritual essence to this piece of dramatic cinema. There is the pale English upper-crust heroine, plucky, brave, a little bit lost at the beginning for whom Love fills her heart and her focus shifts within. There is the crusty, emotionally reserved hero all buff and gorgeous and dripping in dirt and sexual tension. There is betrayal, death, space, colour, movement, honour, creed, the substance of the moment and the demonstration of courage under extraordinary circumstances. There is evil which must be thwarted as well as friendship, good humour, magic and forgiveness.

Luhrmann uses the potentially tacky hook of "Oz" from The Wizard of Oz, to underpin the spiritual themes of the movie. Thankfully however, the dignity of the aboriginal cast subdues what could have become a silly bit of trite word-play (Oz is our short-hand way of saying 'Oztraiyleeya'), and makes it something actually quite sweet and profound. Again, the strong theme for me was the "Sense of Place" and where we belong.

Both movies weave tapestries quite different in context and style. The stories are on the surface very different. The themes are not at their base elements. This is story-telling of the Dreaming sort; the kind of stories mankind has told his tribe for hundreds of thousands of years. We never tire of these themes because they are our own themes, the plots may all be unique but the essence that generates those plots is not. All people everywhere seek that place where they belong. All people long to have the courage to follow their heart. All people wish for love that fills their heart so that the focus shifts from within themselves.

Perhaps not ironically, both movies used the concept of air-raid bombings to underpin the drama. The violence of war is depicted in both movies in quite realistic ways. The afeared loss of the beloved being a classic and very strong element in both narratives. It surprises me as I sit here and write this just how similar these two stories actually are despite the very different styles.

How we interpret these dreams, our stories, our history, through the heroes and heroines of not important. What is important, is that we tell them at all.

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