March 27, 2010


Jindabyne is about the emotional unravelling of a particular event. Out on a fishing trip, four men discover the body of an Aboriginal girl in the midst of a river. They decide to continue their fishing trip and return to the town, reporting the murder four days after they found the body. Castigated by the police, the media and the victim's family, they have to understand what they have done. For some of them, this is easy: for Stewart and his wife Claire, it is incredibly difficult. Their marriage is already strained as when their son was born, Claire had post partum depression and had to leave her child and husband for several months. She doesn't get on with her mother in law either. Stewart's life is fairly boring, it is enlivened so he tells us by fucking and beer. This duo's relationship is put under pressure by the new added circumstance of what Stewart has done.

There are a multitude of questions involved: for a start how great is the sin that the men commit. In the landscape of the film it is incredibly sinister- allegations of racial or sexual motives for the men's behaviour are given. But on the other hand the men and their defenders ask whether the actual sin is the murder itself, furthermore as the girl was dead- there was nothing that could be done for her. She wouldn't care when the police were told, she was dead. The director to add to the moral ambiguity puts the murderer front and centre of the film all the time- we know who he is and his face is always in the camera shot. The film in some sense plays like a thriller- with wide shots and gratuitous 'spooky' music but I think that is to remind us about the larger crime- the murder- rather than the smaller crime- the neglect to report the murder over several days. Ultimately you feel to some extent the men get the hatred that the media and community want to unleash upon the murderer: his unavailability means that they turn on the next best thing- the men.

Whilst that is true of the community, is it really true of Claire. Laura Linney is fast becoming one of my favourite actresses and this is yet another part in which she triumphs. Because of that, Claire is a rounded and interesting character. Claire's condemnation of Stewart is upon the basis that he should have told the police and he should have. Whereas the community's condemnation is excessive, in my view Claire's is not. For her the murder is less important ultimately than her husband's sin: she has to live with her husband and trust him, she has to do neither with the murderer. In a curious way therefore, her insistance on the public morality, the public duty of warning the police, comes out of and is justified by her need for private assurance as to her husband's moral character. She is a complicated character- and far more than the other women involved she seems to scrutinise her husband's reactions but she is not blameless either.

For the third key and fascinating relationship in the film is between Claire and her son Tom. Stewart and Tom appear to have a good relationship as do the mother and son and Claire's relationship with TOm is something that Stewart uses as his weapon against her. I am not perfect, he says, but neither are you, pointing to Claire's neglect. What I found subtly more disturbing is the way that she uses the boy as a prop: she goes to the Aborigine house, taking him with her, she takes him round the streets appealing for money for the dead girl's funeral, she uses him as a shield to demonstrate her own innocence and distance herself from her husband. The latter two motivations are reasonable but to use your child to rhetorically make a point is reprehensible. It is like the beggars in London who send their children ahead of them to ask for money.

I do not think there are easy answers in Jindabyne. Of course the men should have told the police, but they were not murderers, merely stupid. Claire does not overreact, because what is a minor public offence is a major private offence. But she too can be accused of behaving oddly with her son. There is not a morally virtuous position in the film: the victim's family, the men, Claire, the other women, they all can be criticised and ultimately what is partly at stake as well is whether Australia has a single public community or two divided ones (Aborigine and White). There are no easy answers in the film, just disturbing questions.


James Higham said...

I've been to Jindabyne a few times. The country up that way is magnificent and I could even see myself settling in the area. Up in the snow country.

Gracchi said...

It looks beautiful in the film too.