September 12th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Arab world must help fix Syria and Libya crises

FAMILY AND SOCIETY They don't want diversity but to impose conformity

CANBERRA OBSERVED Young Nats jump aboard generational juggernaut

TRADE UNIONS Why royal commissioner declined to step down

RESEARCH Spin on the contraceptive pill a bit hard to swallow

LIFE ISSUES Singer escapes Fisher's net in euthanasia debate

HISTORY OF INDONESIA Suharto's "New Order" a period of stability

CULTURE Academic centres turn on Western civilisation

FAMILY LIFE A father's presence in the home: part II

OBITUARY Historian Robert Conquest documented the horrors of Stalinism

PUBLIC HEALTH UN knows: harm reduction does not reduce harm

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Witness to Marriage Day, August 1

CINEMA On the rough road away from loneliness: Last Cab to Darwin

BOOK REVIEW Good science, specious argumentation


The coup against Tony Abbott

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On the rough road away from loneliness: Last Cab to Darwin

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, September 12, 2015

Last Cab to Darwin is a new Australian film starring Michael Caton as Rex MacCrae, a Broken Hill cabbie who is dying. He discovers that voluntary euthanasia has been made legal in the Northern Territory, so he drives to Darwin to give it a shot.

Michael Caton as Rex MacCrae.

By the sound of things, this film does not seem like one that is going to sit well with News Weekly readers, as films on this topic seem to come with a definite political agenda. However, Aussie films aren’t great at being political. Political yarns require a certain “clarity” to ignore rough edges and things that don’t quite fit; whereas Aussie filmmakers tend to be focused on the rough and the individual.

This approach can be annoying to anyone who wants a film to be an argument, and who wants the argument to go in a particular direction - as can be seen in comments online denouncing Last Cab to Darwin as “lightweight”, “conservative”, “simple-minded” and even “pro-life”.

It is arguable that the movie suggests that voluntary euthanasia should be an option but then asks the question, “Who would use it?” and is uncomfortable with the answer.

Rex is a cabbie who has never left Broken Hill. He drinks with his mates Simmo (John Howard), Col (Alan Dukes) and Dougie (David Field), and has a furtive relationship with his Aboriginal neighbour Polly (Ningali Lawford-Wolf). His dog is named Dog.

Rex learns he has months to live; that the doctors didn’t get all the cancerous tissues in his body. The Northern Territory has legalised voluntary euthanasia – within strict limits – so Rex contacts the one doctor who wishes to provide it: Dr Nicole Farmer (Jacki Weaver).

He then drives to Darwin, along the way picking up Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), an irresponsible and irrepressible Aborigine, and Julie (Emma Hamilton), a former nurse now working as a barmaid.

These are the key elements of a very different sort of road movie, one where the harsh beauty of the outback is almost a character in its own right. The trip explores not just what it is like driving oneself to death, but also what Australia is like, about how its inhabitants get along with one another, and how they don’t.

Throughout the film, Rex keeps himself to himself. He doesn’t like talking about his life or his feelings. He is a decent bloke, but one who feels isolated, one who claims “there’s no one else” in his life, when there obviously is. He hates hospitals, but it’s not until late in the film that we find out why – and we feel the horror and anxiety behind his hatred.

Throughout the film it is hard not to feel with the characters. At times we might be confused as to why they follow certain destructive paths, but then we remember how easy it is to end up going the wrong way. This film is an exercise in empathy, in feeling with the suffering, with the ordinary, with lives not that different from our own.

The one character who lacks sympathy is Dr Farmer. Her zealotry is always on show, and her speech about euthanasia taking the power from the powerful and giving it to the little people is moving – until the inbuilt balderdash detector kicks in as you remember that she is one of the powerful.

Last Cab to Darwin is not a family-friendly film. Apart from its topic, it is laced with an Aussie tendency to use profanity as punctuation. Also, it presents a more laid-back attitude to other moral matters – but, as it is no morality play, this is not unexpected.

The guitar-driven score from Ed Kuepper, co-founder of the 1970s band The Saints, is simple and emotive. The cinematography highlights the natural beauty and majesty of Australia, while also homing in on the distinctive, personal beauty of the actors, especially so with Caton’s understated and powerful performance.

The script, by Reg Cribb and director Jeremy Sims – known for 2010’s World War I drama Beneath Hill 60 – is adapted from Cribb’s 2003 stage play of the same name, itself loosely inspired by the true story of Max Bell.

There is a certain theatricality and artifice to it, but this is to be expected. Stories are not real, they are just the selective re-presenting of the real.

Unlike Michael Haneke’s icy but well-crafted Amour (2012), which sees life as inherently isolated and lonely, and where death seems the best option, Last Cab to Darwin shows that whether we want to admit it or not, we are not alone, we are deeply connected to one another, and that if we wish to live our lives well, we must share them with others.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).

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