Movie Review : The Last Wave (1977)
The Last Wave is an Australian legal thriller written and directed by the iconic Peter Weir (The Truman Show, Dead Poets Society) and starring immortal hot mess Richard Chamberlain in the lead role. It is also a cosmic horror movie. Strange, I know, but movies were wild back then. They took chances and tried stuff, movie studios and their stupid money be damned. If you dared going to the theater, there were chances you'd leave without your date and/or your sanity at the end of the evening. It was recommended to me by author and film critic Scott Adlerberg for horroctober and it was, like many of Scott's suggestions, quite enjoyable and moody despite being hilariously dated. Meh, why exhume movies from the graveyard of cinema if they can't make you crack a smile, right?
Corporate tax lawyer David Burton (my man Richard Chamberlain) is procured by the Australian legal aid system to provide representation for young Aboriginal men who have seemingly murdered a member of their tribe in ritual fashion. David is out of his depth but takes the case anyway. Strange dreams featuring one of the accused (a leather clad David Gulpili, who looks like an extra from Michael Jackson's Beat It) and the violent rainstorm afflicting Sydney start following David around like the plague. The weather gets so strange * and violent, David fears the end of the world might be close. Will our proud white corporate hero heed the noble savages warnings and save the world from its inevitable annihilation? I was not kidding when I said The Last Wave was hilariously dated. The unwitting racism gets pretty bad sometimes.
So, The Last Wave is primarily a movie about Australia's racial relationships. The supernatural themes are a thin veneer which create a pseudo non-racist space for the movie to allegorize its own issues. Follow my drift: the beliefs of Aboriginal people are real in The Last Wave. David has access to a parallel universe called dreamtime and whatever is going on over there echoes in our reality. So, white Australians and Aboriginals operate on a leveled playing field. A fair paradigm if you will. Except that Aboriginals know something is coming, yet don't have the credibility to warn their fellow human beings of the catastrophe, so they use David (who is revealed to have Aboriginal ancestors) for proxy. Only problem is that David is pretty clueless about his origins and his level of responsibility in the cosmos, so his involvement turns into somewhat of a fiasco.
The casting of Richard Chamberlain is absolutely perfect for this movie. He is the spiritual cinematographic father of the Great Michael Douglas and perhaps the first iteration of the expendable white protagonist on screen. I love these guys. They're so oblivious to their own privilege, you're allowed to be indifferent to them. David is so goddamn terrified by the sheer level of his privilege (being a white man/entering dreamtime) that the only thing he desires from it is being left alone to his pleasantly quiet existence, which is perhaps the least responsible thing to do given the circumstances. David wants to protect his wife and children like any 1977 portrayal of a good father would, but he does it by renouncing his own destiny and pooping the party for pretty much everyone else. If you watch The Last Wave, you're very much allowed to root against Richard Chamberlain. It's part of the movie's appeal.
Many viewers were confused by The Last Wave's ending. The explanation is simple: David fucked up. He was so self-centered he didn't heed the call of the universe and wrecked its precarious balance. Sure, The Last Wave fetishizes the beliefs of Aboriginal people and doesn't portray them too kindly, but you have to put it in perspective. It was released in 1977, thirty-one years before the government's official apology to the Aboriginal people. Back then, any depiction outside of the soulless savage was a step forward. The Last Wave's heart is definitely in the right place and it is eerie in its execution. It is a little clumsy in perspective but movies like this make you appreciate the power of timeless classics that don't lose their pertinence in the breathless evolution of society. The Last Wave is a fun cosmic horror/thriller if you don't take its own progressive agenda too seriously. Watch it so you can hate Richard Chamberlain and plot his demise.
* It gets REALLY fucking strange. Not to spoil anything but freak weathers are one of The Last Wave's main calling cards.