JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

The lake under which the original town of Jindabyne disappeared after the construction of a dam establishes the locale as a haunted place and a metaphor for dystopia as well as for hope.

Wiith actors giving fine portrayals of human behavior, Jindabyne reveals its male protagonist Stewart Kane (Gabriel Byrne) as a tender and loving father.

Lawrence is obviously interested in human relationships. He shows Stewart as a man who has to mediate between his wife and his overbearing mother which explains partially his wish for escape.

Newspaper clippings remind of Kane's vanished glory days in a present without perspectives. The film uses mise en scene to add to our understanding of character.

Stewart Kane's face expresses the bitterness and frustration that accompany his life in Australia. The fishing expedition is the year's most important event for him since it allows him to flee the emptiness of his existence.

The sequence where Kane discovers the body in the water.

Acting and mise en scène express the tensions in the couple's relationship.

The frequent landscape images make the wilderness ...

... a metaphor for an inner journey.

 

Jindabyne
Old secrets and a second chance

by Andrea Grunert

A man discovers the body of a dead young Aborigine woman in a river, but instead of reporting his discovery, he and his three friends tie down the corpse to prevent it from drifting away and continue fishing. When they arrive back home, they have to face the incomprehension and criticism of the other members of their community and the grief and anger of the Aborigines, who accuse them of racism. At first glance, Ray Lawrence’s Jindabyne (Australia, 2006) is a film about unforeseen developments which affect the lives of the four men and their families. The disastrous results of their decision represent a challenge to normality and destabilize even more the already dysfunctional human relationships. It is in particular the male protagonist who is forced to examine how he defines himself as a man, a husband and father, and as a member of the community.

Lost hopes and the idea of a second chance

In adapting for the screen Raymond Carver’s short story "So Much Water So Close to Home" (which was also part of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts), Lawrence reflects on sudden decisions and their unexpected consequences in a narrative composed of multiple layers of meaning that deals with love, death, friendship and guilt. Both the literary text and the film focus on social identities, but whereas Carver’s story is located in an U.S. working-class milieu, Lawrence sets his moral tale in an Australian context characterized by the confrontation between the white community and the Aborigines. In doing so, he depicts distinct cultural spaces revealed through frequent images of the landscape — the arid desert, the mountains, and the water — images which punctuate the film.

"Jindabyne" is an Aborigine word for “valley.” Located in New South Wales, it is an isolated spot surrounded by mountains. Not unlike utopian communities, which are often represented as islands, Jindabyne, the town where the protagonists live, is a place that has been given a second chance: the original town was flooded in the early 1960s to make way for a dam. A closed space haunted by the ghosts of an unresolved past, it becomes a metaphor for dystopia. It is, however, the question of a second chance in the lives of the characters which Lawrence retraces in both individual and social terms. The image of the town under the water is used for metonymic ends in a film which, by creating an atmosphere of tension and mystery, brings to the surface old secrets, anxieties and contradictory feelings of guilt and desire.

Stewart Kane, the film’s protagonist, played by the Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, is the man who discovers the body. He belongs to the working-class, owns a garage, is married and the father of a young son. The first shots give insights into his family life, showing him as a loving and caring father. He is a decent man who is constantly being forced to mediate between his wife and overbearing mother. Behind the mask of the warm-hearted father, husband and friend, the film reveals his weakness and a darker, more violent side. His look is sullen when he discovers that his temples have turned grey, and later on he dyes them. Various newspaper clippings pinned to a wall in his office allude to his past as a motor-racing driver, reminding him of days of vanished glory, insignificant though this glory may have been. These brief moments in which the actor’s face expresses the character’s fears and frustrations are symptoms of a life with no great expectations or rewards.

When Stewart discovers the woman's corpse, he panics, screams and makes the sign of the cross several times. The following morning, however, he is the first one to continue fishing as if nothing has happened. Mired in a selfish and arrogant attitude, Stewart cannot understand his wife Claire’s concern when she asks him to explain his behaviour. It seems that the only way he can handle the conflict is by becoming aggressive. It was his idea to tie down the body with a fishing line, which cut into the dead woman’s ankle. Unable to admit the awfulness of this act, Stewart is presented as a flawed, average character who, in Claire’s words, is "piss weak." In terms of acting, Byrne's sense of presence and natural charm create sympathy with the character of Stuart Kane, especially during the dinner the night before the departure of the fishing party. However, the actor’s performance also reveals inner contradictions in Stewart’s nature, making of the male protagonist a contradictory character, a human being caught between indifference and guilt who faces a dilemma the viewer can identify with.

A discourse on sex and death

The film uses Stewart's characterization in a discourse on sex and gender in which doubts are cast not least on his masculinity. His authority at home is questioned, revealing a crisis of male identity which reverses the power structure established in the opening sequence and repeated at other points in the film. Jindabyne starts with a sequence in which the killer/rapist observes his victim, whose dead body Stewart will later discover.

At the film's opening, the male gaze victimizes women as the killer/ rapist watches ...

... for his next victim. The film immediately establishes the possibility for a gendered reading.

The film explores relations between (male) power, sex and death in a number of sequences which show women reduced to the status of objects by a male’s stare and exposed to alienation, oppression and violence. For Stewart, who isn’t aware right away that the "thing" in the water is a human body, it is at first an object which arouses his curiosity. After he has this first panicky reaction, for him and his fishing friends the naked female body is reduced almost irrevocably to an object, and moreover one which can be ignored.

It's the image of a weak man and...

... another reminder of the way the film utilizes the male gaze.

Kane panics and screams.

Once again, the film treats relations between life and death. Here Stewart watches his prey dying.

The body of the dead women is reduced to an object while the four anglers ...

... take pictures of each other and their catch. Not unlike the killer they have trophies (the killer has hid the victim's car in his garage).

Apparently indifferent to the corpse still floating in the water, the four anglers proudly take pictures of each other and their catch. The editing establishes a repelling and highly disturbing connection between the dead human body and the fishing sequences, a connection which, once again, is created by our and the characters' gaze. For example, one shot shows Stewart’s face in close-up staring at something and, in the following close-up, we discover the object of his macabre attention: a fish thrown on the rocks, where it desperately flaps its gills. During the night, Stewart returns to the body, turns the corpse’s face towards him and looks at the woman with a mixture of sadness and fear.

Claire (Laura Linney) at the mortuary.

Her concern for the dead young woman could be related to a wish for self-punishment.

The malevolent forces lurk under the surface of normalcy.

Claire meets the killer (Chris Haywood) at the church.

A personal tension between Stewart and Claire, as well as in other relationships, stands out from the very first sequences. Almost everybody has a demon to fight. As the protagonists, Stewart and Claire are at the centre of this discourse on alienation and shattered identities. When confronted with the facts about the body at the fishing site, Claire reacts violently, refusing to remain passive and act as a victim herself. Laura Linney’s fine performance — the tension in her body, the cold fury in her eyes and the severity in her voice — reveal the character’s innermost feelings. She tries to persuade her friends to accept their responsibilities as human beings towards the Aborigines. Her way of dealing with the situation — particularly her visit to the mortuary — suggests a masochistic attitude, as if her concern for the dead young woman and her family is in part the result of very personal feelings and a lingering sense of guilt. Following a nervous breakdown, Claire once abandoned her new-born son, and her failure as a mother haunts her and catches up with her again when her little boy Tom almost drowns. Being pregnant, she decides to have an abortion when, in the course of the film, she discovers she is pregnant. For Claire, the present situation is a journey back to this past, a means to overcome it and to reconsider decisions.

Go to page 2


To topPrint versionJC 50 Jump Cut home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.