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Not just war as teens fight back


Tomorrow, When the War Began (M). Director: Stuart Beattie. Starring: Caitlin Stasey, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lincoln Lewis, Deniz Akdeniz, Phoebe Tonkin, Chris Pang, Ashleigh Cummings. 104 minutes

Tomorrow When the War BeganWhen I was in high school, it seemed as though everyone was reading John Marsden's Tomorrow, When the War Began series. Its claim to fame, like the Harry Potter books some years later, was that it was being read even by people who hated to read. I was a reader, yet I came to Marsden's books late, and enjoyed the firstthree or four books in the series. There were seven all up, so Iobviously didn't enjoy them that much.

The premise concerns a group of teenage friends from a rural Australian town — including local golden girl Corrie and her boyfriend Kevin, ditzy, girly Fiona, obnoxious but loyal Homer, straight-laced religious girl Robyn, enigmatic Chinese boy Lee, and sharp and strong-willed farm girl Ellie — who find themselves running and, eventually, fighting for their lives when Australia is subjected to military invasion.

Their town, it seems, is a strategic hotspot for this invading army of indeterminate origin (they are Asian in appearance, and a radio broadcast refers to them simply as 'coalition forces'), who have landed at a harbour not far beyond the fringes of the town.

When the invasion takes place, the teenagers happen to be ona camping trip, in a beautiful isolated valley — named, with unsubtle irony, 'Hell' — and thus elude capture. Their parents are not so lucky. Bookand film detail the youths' transformation from scared kids to guerilla soldiers fighting to protect their home.

The film is faithful at least to my decade old memory of the first book in the series. It comes complete with an in-built disclaimer for diehards who will inevitably be disappointed: an in-joke where two characters regurgitate the truism (not necessarily true) that films are always inferior to the books on which they are based.

Tomorrow, When the War Began is a competent action film and a bona fide action franchise in the making, although it may leave discerning viewers questioning the plausibility of some of its action sequences. More than being simply targeted at teens, the film seems tailored for year ten English curriculums: this is an issues-heavy film.

Teenagers commit extreme acts of violence, but the film is more All Quiet on the Western Front than Kick-Ass.Each character is tested by, and responds to their situation in different ways. The characters voice implicit moral concerns about the right to kill in self-defense, and rationalise why it might be right to take up arms.

Chief among the grapplers is Ellie (Stasey) who, in a desperate act if survival, is the first to spill 'enemy' blood, and is profoundly affected by this: the soldiers she killsis a young woman not much older than her.

Later, when Ellie is confronted by a mural depicting an encounter between Captain Cook and a group of Aboriginal Australians, she is momentarily arrested. The question of what is going through her mind at that moment is one that's tailor-made for high school exam papers.

The character of Ellie is iconic to fans of the books; Athena come to rural Australia. It is initially difficult to accept the nymph-like Stasey as a tough and resourceful farm girl. She is famous most recently for a half-decade stint on a popular TV soapie, which has led some people to describe the film as 'Neighbours-with-explosions'.

To her credit, Stasey handles several difficult, key dramatic scenes very ably, and in the end she effectively evokes ellie's arc from innocent youth to war-hardened spiritual leader.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Inside Film and The Big Issue magazines, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail.

Topic tags: Tomorrow When the War Began, John Marsden, Stuart Beattie, Caitlin Stasey, Rachel Hurd-Wood



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Existing comments

Do they let students read books with unjudgmental fun like "The Girls of St Trinians" these days?

Ray O'Donoghue | 09 September 2010  

Why didn't you address the underlying racism and xenophobia in both book and film? Isn't such scare-mongering particularly offensive when the media and Tony Abbott equate invasion with the legitimacy of asylum-seeking.

Carol Robertson | 09 September 2010  

i need to correct you on the point in your third paragraph "[the invaders] are Asian in appearance": marsden specifically avoids any reference to appearance and nationality in all of the books because to do otherwise would detract from the point of the book (which is, to my understanding, not about xenophobia but just one person's imagining of reality for these young people)

louise | 10 September 2010  

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