Director Ray Lawrence takes a longer look at some of the questions raised by Raymond Carver’s short story, “So Much Water So Close to Home.” The same story was covered, but in less detail, by Robert Altman’s 1993 film, Short Cuts.
The film revolves around the racist killing of an Aboriginal woman, and the subsequent mistakes made by a local group of fishing buddies, led by Gabriel Byrne, who find her body. You may remember the part in Short Cuts where Fred Ward is on a fishing trip and finds a dead girl, and the troubles he faces with his wife when he gets home.
Lawrence does a great job of showing how something innocuous can become a serious indictment in the blink of an eye. What seems a harmless decision by the four friends about what to do with the dead girl’s body, later takes on enormous implications where much more is read into their actions by the media, the Aboriginal community, and even the people closest to them.
Back in civilization proper, the men begin to realize the seriousness of what they’ve done, emerging from the spell of their trip. As their deeds come to light, and they are assailed by their community, we realize that we too have been seduced into forgetting for a moment what the right and proper thing would have been to do. We are almost complicit in their actions.
As with all great stories, Jindabyne makes us understand both sides of the dilemma. There are no villains, only real people, with the exception of the killer who remains unrecognized in their midst, and whose presence we feel implicitly throughout the film.
Interestingly, I found the tone of this film reminiscent in some ways of Short Cuts, the stark natural sound at times underscored with an ambient, and alternately menacing, soundtrack. But for me there was something in Jindabyne, in tone and feel, beyond the dry quirky feel of Short Cuts, something richer, even reverent. With Lawrence, there is a heavy reliance or trust in the environment, a willingness to foreground the natural elements to create a deeper experience, utilizing nature as a character in itself.
And in Jindabyne I wondered if Lawrence wasn’t suggesting we are missing something that perhaps native peoples are in touch with – the animate, or animus, in what we often do not think of as alive, such as the often-shot wind in the trees, or the thrum of the power lines over the heads of the men as they descend into the gorge toward the river to begin their fishing expedition. We don’t just watch Jindabyne, we feel it.
Like his previous film, Lantana, Jindabyne is slow but steady. The plot is not as intricate, but is equally suspenseful. Even when nothing is happening, you find yourself engrossed in his images somehow. Lawrence has the patience to study a scene, a character, for longer than the average director, and yet without leaving the viewer with the impression that it is mere indulgence. There is always something behind what we are seeing, an underlying tension Lawrence is so good at sustaining, both through the creation of characters we feel and care about and well-layered storytelling.
The Australian cast lends a lot to the authentic, small town feel of Jindabyne, and the Irish auto mechanic, played by Gabriel Byrne, is especially interesting to watch in this film. Jindabyne held my interest from its violent start to its emotional finish. I recommend it.
Written by Carlito de Corea