The Last Wave

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Australia, 1977

Director: Peter Weir

Production: Ayer Productions Pty. Ltd., McElroy production, South Australian Film Corp., and the Australian Film Commision. Atlab color, 35mm; running time: 106 minutes; length: 9513 feet. Released 16 November 1977. Filmed in Australia.

Producers: Hal McElroy and James McElroy; screenplay: Tony Morphett, Petru Popescu, and Peter Weir, from an idea by Peter Weir; photography: Russell Boyd; additional photography: Ron Taylor, George Greenough and Klaus Jaritz; editor: Max Lemon; sound editor: Greg Bell; sound recordist: Don Connolly; sound rerecordist: Phil Judd; production designer: Goran Warff; art director: Neil Angwin; music: Charles Wain; special effects: Monty Fieguth and Bob Hilditch; costume designers: Annie Bleakley; adviser on tribal Aboriginal matters: Lance Bennett.

Cast: Richard Chamberlain (David Burton); Olivia Hammett (Annie Burton); Gulpilil (Chris Lee); Frederick Parslow (Rev. Burton); Nandjiwarra Amagula (Charlie); Vivean Gray (Dr. Whitburn); Walter Amagula (Gerry Lee); Roy Bara (Larry); Cedric Lalara (Lindsey); Morris Lalara (Jacko); Peter Carroll (Michael Zeadler); Athol Compton (Billy Corman); Hedley Cullen (Judge); Michael Duffield (Andrew Potter); Wallas Eaton (Morgue doctor); Jo England (Babysitter); John Frawley (Policeman); Jennifer de Greenlaw (Zeadler's secretary); Richard Henderson (Prosecutor); Penny Leach (Schoolteacher); Merv Lilley (Publican); John Meagher (Morgue clerk); Guido Rametta (Guido); Malcolm Robertson (Don Fishburn); Greg Rowe (Carl); Katrina Sedgwick (Sophie Burton); Ingrid Weir (Grace Burton).



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* * *

"Hasn't the weather been strange?" muses the advertising slogan for Peter Weir's The Last Wave. "Could it be a warning?" This tone of covert menace, of nasty things unseen by naive protagonists, characterizes Weir's films, but none more than this atmospheric thriller. Troubled by dreams of his home city, Sydney, inundated by a vast flood, lawyer Richard Chamberlain is drawn into the underground world of Sydney's aboriginals who still live a tribal life in the slums. To them, the city is merely a transient facade obscuring ancient mysteries, the ritual objects of which remain buried in forgotten catacombs. Chamberlain's discovery of these tunnels and the resulting revelation give the film its final enigmatic scenes.

Weir conceived the film after discovering (by precognition, he feels) a piece of statuary on a Tunisian beach. Early drafts of the script represented, in a Von Daniken-like manner, ancient races dragging rafts across the Australian desert. In collaboration with various writers, Weir shaped a story of city aboriginals protecting ritual stones brought to Australia by a long dead race. As Australia is gripped by fierce storms and an unrelenting downpour, Chamberlain finds his way to the caves where ancient wall paintings foretell the world's destruction by water. He emerges on a beach to face the ultimate reality of the prophecy.

Australian backers derided the film, and a shortage of money forced many compromises—notably in the last sequence, where Weir used a clip from the surfing film Crystal Voyager to stand in for the tidal wave. The Aztec ruins lost something in their rough and ready construction. The use of aboriginal myths led to picketing by militant black groups who charged Weir with debasing their mythology. However, Weir acknowledged that his contact with aboriginal performers led to a widening and deepening of the script. Gulpilil's appearance in a dream, the rain streaming down, with a scored sacred stone in his out-thrust hand, is particularly striking.

Weir calls The Last Wave his "roughest, most awkward" film. But despite a certain tentativeness in the use of large resources, it is significant as the first new Australian film to reveal an interest in wider issues and a less chauvinistic sensibility.

—John Baxter