I’ve been watching: Tomorrow When The War Began

  • An unlikely group of teenagers from an Australian country town go on a camping trip. It’s a blissful weekend spent immersed in the bush, disconnected from civilisation, with only each other for company. They bond, they grow closer to one another, and some of their number even find love. When they return to their hometown of Wirrawee, they find their homes abandoned and the town occupied by invading soldiers (which are heavily implied to be Chinese). After seeing the detention camps the people of the town, including their friends and family, are being kept in, and almost being captured themselves, they spend their time lying low in the abandoned town and avoiding capture. That is, until they decide to turn guerrilla and fight the invaders.
  • It’s a thrilling film with an attention-grabbing, high-concept plot. The sheer novelty of the idea of contemporary Australia, in peacetime, being invaded by Asian forces is wonderful. The scenes of the Wirrawee detention camp, flustered ordinary Australians being intimidated at gunpoint by black-booted, black-uniformed Asians, and the aerial battle the kids witness, give Australian as well as other Western viewers a very real and chilling sense of what a hostile invasion of our countries would look like. Those sequences were surreal, because a foreign occupation of the familiar scenes of Australian suburbia and Australian country towns sounds like such a surreal and far-fetched prospect. We believe it could never happen. Not here. Not to us. That kind of thing doesn’t happen to us. But maybe one day it will. And this is a chilling simulation of what it will look like if and when it does.
  • It was a good idea to tell the story through the eyes of a group of teenagers who, through fortuitous accident, happened to escape the occupation and detention of the population. The scenes of them panicking and flustering around as they return to a ghost town were some of the most suspenseful in the film. And, frankly, teenagers just make the best protagonists for these sorts of stories. Teenagers are angsty. They’re emotional. They’ve got overexcited hormones and they’re still learning what it means to be an adult, and not a child. They’re ingenuous idealists whose view of the world isn’t yet jaded by experience. They (mostly) haven’t developed the egos of adults yet. In short, a guerrilla band of hormonal Australian teenagers makes for a much more interesting story than a guerrilla band of rational, cynical and probably ego-absorbed Australian adults.
  • But the characters themselves brought a variety of dimensions to the story. It almost seems like they were chosen to be as varied and as unlikely a group of friends as possible, Robyn, the sweet, demure Catholic girl juxtaposed with Homer, the serial law-flouter who proudly sports his “Fuck the police” t-shirt. At points the characterisation was poor. Robyn, Kevin and especially Fiona felt a bit like caricatures who lacked any meaningful depth of characterisation, and Corrie was almost a complete nonentity as far as I was concerned. Fiona in particular was seemingly written as a stereotypical prissy stupid blonde, and the single attempt to add layer to her character was weak and unconvincing.
  • On the other hand, Ellie, Homer and Lee were wonderful characters, so it’s not all bad on that front, although I think I’d have liked to have become a bit more familiar with Lee, who by the end of the film was still a quiet, dark, interesting introvert, albeit one evidently with a big crush on Ellie. Ellie, of course, was the single best thing about this film. Her character was written brilliantly, and Caitlin Stasey proved herself equal to such a challenging character. The scene where Ellie vents at Chris for falling asleep on watch and turns the gun on him was utterly spellbinding.
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