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More challenges than resolutions in Jindabyne

  • 07 August 2006

Jindabyne. Running Time: 123 minutes. Director: Ray Lawrence. Starring: Gabriel Byrne, John Howard, Stelios Yiakmis, Laura Linney, Deborah-Lee Furness. There would be few unfamiliar with the music of Paul Kelly—nor his song Everything’s Turning to White. The inspiration for this Kelly song comes from the Raymond Carver short story So Much Water So Close to Home. Like much of Kelly’s music, the song explores human interactions and complexities.

Australian director Raymond Lawrence also found fertile ground in this rich source material, and his interpretations come to us in the form of the movie Jindabyne. Lawrence has transported Carvers’ American tale into the N.S.W. Snowy River town, where we are introduced to four men, played by Gabriel Byrne, John Howard, Stelios Yiakmis and Simon Stone, of varying age as they set off on a weekend fishing trip.

The four men travel to the secluded river on foot, and upon arrival discover the dead body of a young Aboriginal woman who in all likelihood has been raped. After brief discussion, the men agree to leave her in the river and tether her to a tree while they continue their fishing trip, resolving to notify authorities when they return. On arrival home the men encounter mixed receptions from their partners, indifference from townsfolk, and anger from the local Aboriginal community.

Throughout the film, Lawrence skilfully explores the roles, perceptions and experiences of men and especially women within various relationships. Central character and wife Claire, (portrayed skilfully by Laura Linney) is the last to find out about the dead woman, and illustrates a woman constrained by past misdeeds and marital powerlessness. Her often-misguided attempts to build a relationship between her family and that of the dead girl serve to highlight great cultural divisions and misunderstandings within our country.

Claire offers a challenge and counterpoint to her husband’s unwillingness to confront such problems. Masculinity, morality, grief, love and family are the often-crowded subject matter with which Lawrence carves out his story. White and indigenous Australia’s different processes of mourning throughout the film identify areas in which white Australia has much to learn from our land's original inhabitants. The dead woman’s relatives demand, ‘would a white woman—or man—have been left tied by the ankles to a tree for two nights?’

Lawrence’s films present more challenges than resolutions. For the questions asked in this film there are no simple answers. The setting of this film in a community situated on top of a town submerged