Outback Australia after the plague


Cargo (MA). Directors: Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke. Starring: Martin Freeman, Anthony Hayes, Simone Landers, Natasha Wanganeen. 104 minutes

Martin Freeman in Cargo

During a Q+A screening of Cargo in Eslternwick, Vic., actor Natasha Wanganeen described her pride in participating in the film's portrayal of Aboriginal people 'living strong and free on the land'. Directors Howling and Ramke, both white, had carefully consulted with Elders in South Australia to ensure the authenticity and sensitivity of these portrayals.

This attention to contemporary cultural and human realities is remarkable when you consider that Cargo is a zombie movie. Yes, that kind of zombie movie; the Walking Dead variety, where civilisation has been upended by a plague that turns human beings into flesh-eating ghouls. True to the genre, it has its share of suspenseful and gruesome moments.

Yet such stories are almost always allegorical, the zombie plague a stand-in for any kind of world-ending event (say, nuclear war, or runaway climate change). In the best of them, the focus is firmly on the human characters, whose responses and priorities reveal the depths of their capacity for compassion and ethical action, in lieu of the social structures that have fallen away.

Cargo is at its heart a story about a father's fight to protect his infant daughter. More to the point, it relates his efforts to make sure she is cared for after he is gone. After Andy (perennial everyman Freeman) becomes infected, this becomes a literal race against the clock before he, too, turns into one of the viral ghouls. The film's portrayal of selfless fatherhood is deeply touching.

There are counterpoints to Andy's selflessness, and not only the undead variety. The end of the world brings out the best and the worst in people, and some of those that Andy encounters, such as ex-miner Vic (Hayes), have succumbed to sadistic and opportunistic instincts. Andy must constantly weigh whom he can trust with his daughter's life. The options are scarce.


"Natasha Wanganeen described her pride in participating in the film's portrayal of Aboriginal people 'living strong and free on the land'."


Eventually he crosses paths with Thoomi (Landers), daughter of Wanganeen's Josie. With the downfall of white society, Thoomi and other Aboriginal people have abandoned their white-established communities, to return to the land. Tellingly, through embracing ancient communal practices, they are proving far more resilient than their white counterparts. Thus it is through Thoomi that Andy may ultimately discover the key to survival.

Cargo's flashes of gore mean it won't be for everyone. At the same time there is ample beauty to offset the ugliness; from cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson's exquisite framing of the natural environment, to Freeman's powerful performance, which anchors the thematically rich, emotionally resonant story.



Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is the editor of Eureka Street.

This review originally appeared in The Melbourne Anglican.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Cargo, Martin Freeman, Anthony Hayes, Simone Landers, Natasha Wanganeen



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