Peter Weir’s “The Last Wave” is a laconic explorative fantasy with very mild supernatural elements. Like Richard Stanley’s “Dust Devil”, another white male director living in a foreign land delves into the dark side of the indigenous culture of his homeland, in this case the Australian aborigines. The film involves a Sydney lawyer, David Burton, (played by the melancholic yet philosophic Richard Chamberlain at the height of his career) who takes on a case involving “city dwelling” Aborigines who are accused of the murder of one of their own. Their own tribal laws do not apply within city limits, and anything that seems deemed as such will be subjected to new law of the land. The thing is; the death is somewhat mysterious as it looks like it was a tribal situation (no tribes are allowed in the city). The mystery lies in the fact that the victim died of drowning on land. The aborigines remain mum and are completely uncooperative about everything, whether they are tribal or whether they know anything about the murder. The other thing is, there’s been an unusual amount of rain as of late, so much so that even those who don’t believe in Australian aboriginal myths or prophecies, which foretell the apocalypse happening, are skeptic.
What’s happening to the city, however, is nothing compared to what’s happening to David. He’s having strange delusional visions. Nightmares and haunting hallucinatory blackouts remain unexplainable, until he delves further into the fact that the city dwelling aborigines on trial are indeed tribal. He even dreams of one of his clients that he has yet to meet. Chris (played by probably the most famous working aboriginal actor David Gulpilil) , who’s a younger member of the tribe, was envisioned by David holding a tribal stone with blood on it while standing in his dining room. To make matters worse, at a dinner meeting with Charlie (who’s the leader of the tribe) and Chris, David learns that he himself may be the reincarnation of an aboriginal sun god, called Mulkurul. David becomes all too interested in this strange probability. Knowing something of his own ancestral background and his current affair with not knowing dream from reality, David knows full well the defendants did murder one of their own in a ritual.
His only friend in all of this ends up becoming Chris, who warns David that Charlie is not only the tribal elder, but also a powerful sorcerer. The vision was a warning, David eventually learns, as all the answers are given to him in one way or another. The rain continues to come down from torrential spells to black soot. It’s this that David has to question his own identity. David ultimately is lead by Chris to a sacred tribal area belonging to Charlie’s tribe. The sacred grounds can be found under Sydney’s water system as David discovers the prophecy of “the last wave” written on the walls and confronts Charlie the tribal shaman.
Weir’s “The Last Wave” is a very heady film, as it really is one of those films you don’t take on face value. It’s a lot in relation to one of Weir’s later films, “The Truman Show” (Not to mention the subject matter of Witness), where coincidentally water also seems to be a pivotal story element. The Australian Aborigine myth about the “dreamtime” states this was the time of earth’s creation, done by a rainbow serpent. The apocalyptic prophecy states that there will be a massive tidal wave from the Pacific Ocean that will wipe out the entire continent of Australia. Ponder Thailand and more recently Japan’s deadly tsunamis and earthquakes for a moment? There’s a reason for the characters interpretation of each other in this film that is the most important facet of all. As they deal with the duality within themselves. They are up against the greatest challenge any individual must face, the simple quest of self-identity, as Charlie in the film does ask David, “Who are you?”. I look forward to a Peter Weir film as most of the time they deal with a man challenging something bigger than just another man or some bad relationship, they deal with challenges that we all would have to question our own path.