Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Rabbit-Proof Fence

Lowdown: Aboriginal girls flee authorities across Australia to unite with their family.
Before coming to Australia I didn’t know much about the aboriginal history post the arrival of Europeans. I suspected they were kicked off their land rather involuntarily, as with every other place Europeans got to, but that was it. I cannot say that migrating to Australia has improved my understanding of aboriginal history as these things are simply not discussed; for example, it took a book by an English author, Richard Dawkins, for me to realize how Tasmanian aboriginals were exterminated.
What you do hear about in Australian media is the concept of “The Stolen Generation”, a concept made popular since Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s official apology to aboriginals some two years ago. But what does “Stolen Generation” mean? Rabbit-Proof Fence, a 2002 release of a real story from 1932, attempts to familiarize its viewers with the concept through the first hand experience of three aboriginal girls, or rather “half castes”: the daughters of mixed white and aboriginal parents.
The girls live in relative peace with their mother in a remote area of Western Australia where they are a part of the aboriginal community. Trouble kicks in when the government official in charge of aboriginals (brilliantly portrayed by Kenneth Branagh) decides to implement his version of the Final Solution on these half-castes and orders the police to take them to a special institution for aboriginal kids. Aimed at exposing the kids to the best of white culture, the kids find themselves at a harsh and brutal place that’s run by nuns and their likes and is a far cry from the loving environment of their family. Determined to get back to where they belong, the girls escape the institution and walk their way home across thousands of kilometres. On their way and as they flee the chasing authorities they encounter a variety of conditions and a variety of people, both white and black; some are indifferent, some are good and some are bad.
Genre wise, Rabbit-Proof Fence reminded me of holocaust films. The similarity is scary: Between Branagh’s depiction of racial policies which entirely consume his character, the “we know what’s better for you” attitude, and the re-educations camps with their selections for white look alikes as the ticket out, one can clearly see how the Hitler phenomenon of racism was not limited to Nazi Germany but was rather widespread and a well enshrined part of those times’ zeitgeist. While no aboriginals appear to be exterminated during the making of this film, it definitely looks like a lot of spirits have been broken down by the authorities.
Overall, director Phillip Noyce had managed to create a touching film that is also quite thrilling. You really do feel for the girls and their comrades, you really get annoyed with the crimes done to aboriginals, and you really get scared by Branagh’s character.
Worst scenes: In a film that manages to drive the aboriginal problem home so well, I was annoyed by scenes of artificial mysticism thrown in by Noyce from time to time. One example is the girl and the mother each feeling one another despite being hundreds of kilometers from one another as they touch the rabbit-proof fence that ran across Australia. Is there a new kind of electric conductivity we don’t know about? Or another scene in which (blooper alert!) the aboriginals know that their girls are about to reach them soon because they feel it in the air: if aboriginals were indeed able to perform acts such as this they should have won all lottery draws since the arrival of white man, shouldn’t they?
Overall: A very worthy film that borrows successfully from depictions of others’ tribulations. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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