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.