The Bard's Grove

"There are times when people need stories more than they need nourishment, because the stories feed something deeper than the needs of the body."
Charles DeLint, The Onion Girl

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Last Wave by Peter Weir

The Last Wave: An Archetypal Movie about a Change in Consciousness

Peter Weir’s 1977 movie The Last Wave is a moody, mysterious story about personal and cultural change.  Two men from different worlds are confronted by a mystery;  they both respond to it with honesty and integrity.  This mystery seemingly centers around a mysterious death involving Australian Aborigines.  But the real mystery forces one of these men to confront a rejected part of his inner psyche, an aspect of human life which western man has worked hard to make irrelevant.  
It is the mystery of the psychic dimensions of life, our sixth sense that opens us to unseen realities, which are considered ‘primitive’ by rational standards.  Our left-brained culture often chooses to ignore and vilify the reality of this right-brain imagination.  This story points out the fact that without both views of life, we die.

The movie opens with the arrival of a wild thunderstorm - both in the Australian desert and in the city.  Children are playing outside a one-room schoolhouse in the desert when it suddenly starts to pour – and then to hail.  The baseball-sized hail draws blood from one of the children.  Then we see people in the city, dealing with the downpour in a more frenetic way, going about business as usual.  Only the Aborigines take notice that something out of the ordinary is happening.  From these beginnings, the rains continue to fall throughout the story, soaking the atmosphere of the movie as much as the landscape.   The land is being inundated.  The waters of life are calling out.  Who will listen?  Who will answer their call?
Water is an ancient symbol of the Great Mother, the feminine womb, the fertility and fountain of life.  Life first arose in the oceans of the Earth.  And without water, we die.  Water is also symbolic of our feeling function, those gut feelings about what is right or what is wrong. The waters in this movie symbolize the unseen psychic realms that surround us, both the unconscious and the realm of dreams.   From its beginning scenes, the movie painfully depicts how the dried-out landscape of Western culture is being inundated by the unseen watery realms.   Since it takes place in Australia, Mr. Weir brings us the message through the Dreamtime of the ancient Aborigines.  
Dreams, intuitions, feelings - these are aspects of our western psyche which have been repressed since the Age of Enlightenment.  Women, more often than men, are connected with our feelings and intuitions, even though we have been trained to ignore them through ridicule and disbelief.  In the 70s, women were re-discovering the ancient Goddess, as well as reclaiming her ancient powers of emotional intelligence and visionary intuition.  It is the realm of Feminine Consciousness which is operating when we talk about dreams and visions.  Another example of how most feminine gifts and talents have been vilified and rejected by our patriarchal society!  The exciting aspect of this is that these feminine functions of the human psyche will be growing stronger within all of us during the next 14 years, as the planet Neptune moves through the sign of Pisces (see the end of this article).  If we work with these energies, we can create a new world.  If we continue to fear them, we will be overwhelmed by them. 

Back in 1977, writer and director Peter Weir explored these concepts in The Last Wave through his male characters.
Peter Weir, in an interview with Judith M. Kass in New York City in 1979 said:

“I suppose I've been shaving some mornings and I've watched water coming out of the tap and I've thought, ‘It seems to be under control’. What if I couldn't turn it off and no plumber could? We think we have nature under control. Disasters always happen in Third World countries; in my part of the world we're OK because we've organized things. We wouldn't permit a cyclone to hit the city. It seems to me we've lost touch with the fear of nature.  More than the respect for it, because there are too many poems written about the respect for nature. To be absolutely dead scared.  Tonight, we could leave this building and there’d be a special kind of wind blowing. If that wind is howling with a voice like the voice of a person, a four-year-old child might say to us, "The wind's talking to us," and we'll say, "No it isn't, don't be silly. It's just howling around those wires." Organize his imagination, everything's under control. It's just part of something we've lost touch with, another way of seeing the world. It was part of a balance of things, a balance within us, and we've eliminated it since the Industrial Revolution and it's forcing its way back. People make movies about it, write books about it. Often they're junk. Children are born with it, with this balance. We teach it out, but it'll find its way back with some of us.”

            Our imaginations have been colonized by our western culture’s insistence on rationalism as the sole source of wisdom and knowledge.  It will become our undoing unless we free up our imaginations and listen to our dreams once again.  This is the journey of our movie’s hero, David Burton, a white lawyer who finds himself caught up in a murder mystery involving a group of Aboriginal men.  The death and even David’s involvement in the case is mysterious, since he is a corporate taxation lawyer, not a defense attorney.  He nevertheless takes on the case, and immediately both his professional life and his personal life begin to unravel. 
            Plagued by visions of water and recurring dreams about a mysterious Aboriginal man who shows him a rock with ancient inscriptions on it, David’s rational world further crumbles when he meets Chris, the man in his dreams, one of the men accused of murder.  Chris becomes his gateway into the world of the Dreamtime, when he brings an old shaman, Charlie, to David’s house.  When David asks Charlie about tribal matters (a taboo which is the reason the original man was killed) Charlie tells him, “Law is more important than man.”  

            Charlie tells David a deep truth about the Aborigines and about all ancient peoples.  For them, law is more important than a single person.  Ancient cultures developed their sense of identity through their tribal stories and hidden rituals. The wisdom of the ancestors was embodied in the tribe’s myths and legends.  Each person lived according to these tribal and often cosmic laws.  To step outside these laws could bring destruction not only to oneself but to the whole tribe. This makes every member of the tribe responsible for all the tribe.
       This is tribal law.  Charlie kills the man who broke the taboo by stealing one of the tribal power objects.  He kills him in the Dreamtime to protect the ancient ways.  Chris and Charlie try to get David to back off from his defense for them, that they are tribal people still living in Sydney. The whites don’t know this and the Aborigines want to keep it a secret.   But David, in his zeal to save them, won’t listen to them.
             This is an apt metaphor for what Western culture has done to the world, because our rational standpoint has often cut us off from life and led us to ignore the cosmic laws of Nature as well as the tribal laws of others.  And so we bring disaster upon ourselves and our world.  Charlie, as the tribe’s shaman, is making sure that his world and its mysteries stay safe. The men are prepared to go to prison to protect the tribal laws.
             But our western ways have already infiltrated the ancient ways. While David feels he is serving the cause of justice, he is breaking the barriers between two cultures.  It is Chris who helps him – Chris who comes to him in his dreams and shows him the stolen object. Chris and David become the vehicles, the twin souls, who bring about a new possibility for both cultures.  
Here we have two men: one white, one black; one tribal aboriginal, one highly sophisticated Western civilized man. Both fine men. One of them has material wealth; one has spiritual wealth. I wanted my lawyer, with his material wealth, with his humanitarian principles, to, firstly, glimpse with his mind that there was another lost dream, or spiritual life, and then to touch it.  (Peter Weir interview)

David does just that when he won’t let go of the mystery.  Chris tries to mediate between the old ways of the shaman and David’s western ways.  When he explains the Dreamtime, David asks him, “What are dreams?” and he answers, “Dreams are hearing, seeing, feeling ways of knowing.  Dreams are the shadows of something real.”  Now we get to the essence of the story.  How can modern man accept the reality of the Dreamtime – or even his own dreams?  David’s response to this issue is central to the story.  If he can accept the dream reality, something important will change.
            When David seeks out the old shaman who has been terrorizing his family, trying to stop David from using the argument that this was a tribal killing, he has to face the BIG question of life. He finds Charlie, seated on the floor of an empty room in Sydney; when confronted, Charlie rocks back and forth, asking David over and over again, “Who are You? Who are You?  Who are You?  Are you a fish?  Are you a snake?  Are you a man?  Who are You?  Who are You?  Who are You?”  Charlie is at a loss to know who David is, and can only confront David with his own mystery.  Can our inner dreamer really trust our ego to listen, to understand and to act in the whole's best interest?  Or will we have more of the same?
            Later, David’s stepfather, a minister, reminds him that when he was a child, he used to be a dreamer. He told his parents that people came to take him to another world while he slept.   But after he dreamed his mother’s death, he locked that part of himself away, hidden so deep he forgot about it.  Such a beautiful image for western man, who has cut himself off from the power of dreams and visions in his search to control life and nature!  At the point in the movie where the waters are flooding him and he seemingly has lost everything, he asks his stepfather, “Why didn’t you tell me there were mysteries?”  His father’s response is, “We lost our dreams.”
            As David reclaims his belief in the Dreamtime, Chris comes to him and shows him the way to the tribe’s secret caves below Sydney.  There David confronts the old shaman and in a battle of wills, overcomes him.  If the old ways must die, then the new life must carry forward the essence of wisdom that formed the core of that older wisdom.  It seems neither the old shaman nor the old David will do.  There needs to be balance, there needs to be an acceptance of both worlds.
            Exploring the sacred site, David sees the ancient stories drawn on the cave walls, stories of men such as he who came to the Aborigines in the past at the turning of the ages when there was a giant tidal wave which destroyed everything.  They are somehow his people, for they look like him.  He quickly gathers up a mask he finds there – a mask that bears his own face - and leaves the caves.
But when David tries to go back the way he came in, he finds the way barred.  He loses faith and drops the mask.  His old identity - no matter how wondrous - must be left behind.   He can only go forward, down through the sewers and then out in a new birth.   
As he stumbles out of a sewage pipe onto the beach as the sun rises, he sees before him the mighty wave, building and building, ready to break.   Peter Weir’s vision of this wave is ambiguous.  Is the wave a dreamtime reality?  Or is a tsunami headed his way? Will our hero survive?  Will we survive?  Can we integrate the power of our own dream time?  Only time will tell. 
The last part of this series will appear Thursday March 15 - the Ides of March - and I will discuss the symbol of the tidal wave and the astrological meaning of Neptune in Pisces.
I hope you enjoyed your stay at The Bard's Grove.

1 comment:

  1. You can watch the entire movie on You Tube - just find The Last Wave. I can't put a link here for some reason.

    Thanks Frank for sending me the link.