Lowdown: Two young sprint runners from WA join the WW1 fighting at Gallipoli.
There really wasn’t any other movie more suitable to watch on the 100th anniversary of Australian (as well as New Zealanders and others) soldiers landing at the Turkish heaven of Gallipoli as per Admiral Churchill’s plan to shift the paradigms of The Great War. I have a lot of issues with what has become of the way Australia reveres ANZAC Day to the point of it being the national religion, but I do acknowledge the sacrifice and the tragic loss of life. In other words, I seek to know more about the matter, and there is no easier way to learn about what ANZAC Day means to Australia than watch the 1981 movie Gallipoli.
The first thing you need to know about Gallipoli the movie is the first thing you see when the opening credits come up: the name of one Rupert Murdoch. I can close this review at this point in time, but for the sake of mutual entertainment I will press on with the details in which this manifestation of the Murdoch worldview is trying to twist innocent minds.
The story of Gallipoli follows two teenage sprint runners from WA. It actually starts off at a time in which Australian soldiers are already trying to establish a stronghold on Turkish beaches. Back home, we have, on one hand, the fair and gallant Archy (Mark Lee) while on the other we have the rather dodgy Frank (a very young Mel Gibson). In effect, the combination of the two is meant to portray the spirit of the enterprising + happy go lucky Aussie. Eventually we get Archy seeking to get himself drafted despite being too young, and through not having anything better really to do we have the previously indifferent to the call of the empire Frank joining him. The two soldiers then head to Egypt, where in between leisurely training they’re up to all sorts of funny mischief I’m pretty sure the locals appreciated much less than the money they’ve made off these war time tourists.
Eventually, our heroes get to Gallipoli. As for what happens then, that’s as obvious as any other made to formula film before and after. In case you happen to be unaware of this pillar stone of Australian nationalism, the ANZACs lost; they were never able to establish their presence at Gallipoli, and were eventually pushed to retreat back to their ships by the Turks (even if, in the grand scheme of things, the exact opposite happened at the overall war level).
If you haven’t guessed it already through the Murdoch credit, Gallipoli is all about adding fuel to the fire of Australian nationalism. The Aussies are an impeccable bunch, perfect even when they’re up to no good and abuse the Egyptian hospitality. The Turks are all but non existent; the fact it was their homeland that was invaded by the ANZACs does not receive a mention. All we hear from them is the sound of their machine guns. And the reason why the ANZACs lost? Oh, that was entirely because the British high command’s impeccable nature had them carelessly throw young Aussies into the line of machine gun fire. Luckily for us, with all the brainwashing Gallipoli throws at us, we know the reality was much more complicated.
Yet Gallipoli the movie is still there and is still a cornerstone of Australian culture. I will argue the picture it portrays, glorifying the Australian soldier to the level where he is clearly morally superior to everything else out there (including the bloody enemy) is a rather dangerous one. It is exactly this superiority complex, a complex that developed straight out of the inferiority complex of being the backend of the once great British Empire, that has Australia meddling today in all sorts of wars it has no business poking its nose into. Then again, that has always been the raison d'être for organised religion.
Overall: Gallipoli is not a good movie at all. It is, however, a very interesting movie to watch if one seeks to understand the dominating Aussie psyche, for better but mostly for worse. I therefore give it 3 out of 5 anthropological crabs.