Are we alone on this life journey?

Are we alone on this life journey?

Review: Sweet Country

Bryan Brown, Sam Neill, Hamilton Morris & Thomas M. Wright. 

Within the dark interpretation of the Australian landscape, director Warwick Thornton (Samson & Delilah) manages to incorporate elements of biblical concepts that help to propel the story of Sweet Country. In this latest release, Thornton paints a picture of the plight and hopelessness of the Indigenous experience but allows the light of the Bible to influence these worlds. Thornton introduces one of the most appealing Christian characters in cinema this year, Fred Smith played brilliantly by Sam Neill.

Based on true events in the early 1900s of the Australia’s Northern Territory, newcomer Harry March (Ewen Leslie) comes to Fred’s property to ask for assistance with his cattle yards. Naively, the landowner encourages his Aboriginal farmhand, Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) and his family to go and assist their new neighbour. Upon arrival to the property, the relationship between March and the Kelly’s becomes strained and abusive, because of the cattle owner’s mental state. This mistreatment leads to a confrontation between the two men that ends with March’s death.  Even though this violent end was the result of self-defence, Sam and his wife go on the run into the outback. A hunting party is led by Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) to bring the Kellys to justice. As the details surrounding the cattleman’s death are brought to light, the small community begins to question if the right people are held to account.

The violent realities of the history of the sunburned country and the treatment of indigenous Australians have been a central theme throughout Australia’s cinematic past. What Thornton offers to this genre is blurred lines of who is to blame for the atrocities. He does not allow the ‘white fella’ to get away with this sordid past but does show that those within the Aboriginal community can be their own worst enemy. Even under the mistreatment placed upon them, they are uncertain on where to put their loyalty and turn on one another, as opposed to supporting those within their community.

The indigenous director shows his background as a cinematographer by depicting both the beauty and unforgiving nature of the Australian landscape. The land becomes a metaphor for the people who inhabit it with some being relentless, but some showing the allure of the human experience. There is a certain beauty to the film, despite the ugliness of the events surrounding the killing. The relationship between Sam and Lizzie (Natassia Gorey Furber) has a sincere simplicity that does not require excessive dialogue. Complementing these performances is the winsome portrayal of Fred Smith by Neil who is allowed to be the conscience of the film. These fragments of charm are overwhelmed by the violence and desperate aspects of this historical account.

Sweet Country is compelling and is well crafted, but it is hard to enjoy the cinematic experience. The real value of this movie is to warn our society to keep from repeating its history and that we should do more to celebrate the beauty that Australia has provided.

Looking Deeper

Watching the Kellys travelling across the outback caused a deep feeling of being alone on this planet.

Are we alone on this journey called life? It is easy to even feel isolated in a crowd, much less while on the run from the authorities across the deserts of Australia. Isolation can be a physical reality, but for many it is truly a state of mind. We can seek out solace in personal relationships or through technology, but these things do eventually have limited satisfaction.

This deeply philosophical query can be answered by saying that God is there for us all. Mankind needs to merely turn around and acknowledge His presence. During times of joy or loneliness, God is there for us and provides a relationship unlike any other. Where do you start? Begin with the first book of the New Testament – Matthew 28:20 – ‘behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’ and then go back to beginning of the story and introduce yourself the person of Jesus. Matthew

You never have to be alone again…

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger 

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