Cultural identity; “the identity of a group, culture or individual as far as one is influenced by one’s belonging to a group or culture.”2
The epic drama Australia, (2008), by award-winning director Baz Luhrmann, is the second highest grossing film in Australia’s history. Australia is set during the Second World War. A context and time different from ours and therefore one, which allows for an examination of cultural identity and those values, beliefs and attitudes which we as a nation have, normalized and some of which we have challenged. The setting allows cultural beliefs to be exaggerated and also contradictory to the majority of today’s beliefs, therefore creating a larger response from the viewer.
These cultural beliefs – representations of the time – are both challenged and normalized throughout the film. This includes the belief that Australia was a typical wild-west nation and the cultural attitude that the indigenous race was inferior. These beliefs are fundamentally raised through the use of various writer’s filmic techniques. These techniques used by Luhrmann include the use of dialogue, symbolism, camera lengths and repetition. It is through these techniques that Luhrmann raises various cultural beliefs throughout the film.
A significant cultural belief that is represented in the film Australia is the attitude that Australia was viewed as a mysterious and often Wild West nation. This representation is strongly normalized throughout the film. Luhrmann uses filmic techniques including the use of dialogue, camera angles and scenery to portray this cultural identity. “But Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), its Australia,” says her butler (Peter Gwynne). Through the use of dialogue, Luhrmann has encouraged a negative viewpoint towards Australia. Emphasizing “Australia” has the effects of portraying Australia as a real unknown, unpredictable and dangerous nation. Another technique is the use of panning and craning camera angles.
The effect of this filmic technique is that it enables the Australian landscape at large to be in view. Within this view we as the viewer acknowledge a truly Wild-western theme. This is seen through the barren landscape and constant swirling of dust. Furthermore this dust is a constant motif throughout the movie. The dust is interchangeable throughout as smoke or mist amongst other substances. The effects of this motif are to further add to the mysteriousness of Australia. Further use of dialogue reinforces this cultural belief. “Carney (Bryan Brown) is the authority around here”.
Through the use of dialogue Luhrmann has encouraged Australia to be viewed as a typical Wild West nation. This is because, as seen in the Wild West, a big business owner (King Carney) has the power of the town. It is even more stereotypical that he is a cattle baron, with baron having the connotations of power and greed. It is through these filmic techniques that Luhrmann has normalized the cultural belief that Australia is a mysterious and typical Wild West nation in his representations of cultural identity.
A cultural attitude that is represented by Luhrmann is that the indigenous race is inferior to the white peoples race. This cultural identity is both normalized and challenged throughout the film Australia. A significant method Luhrmann has used to portray this attitude is through the dialogue and attitude of characters throughout the film. “It’s a fact of science that the Aboriginal mother soon forgets her offspring”. This quote provides an extremely negative representation that supports the cultural identity that the indigenous race is inferior to white people.
This is seen how the quote likens an Aboriginal mother to an animal, who forgets their offspring. Furthermore, the basis that it is simply a ‘fact of science’, something we know not to be true, portrays how strong this cultural identity was at the time. “I’m as good as black up there”. This quote from the Drover truly typifies the lack of understanding of racism at the time. We come to understand the Drover as one of the strong supporters of the indigenous throughout the movie. However, in this quote, the Drover basically suggests being black is a bad thing. This is a typical representation of understandings at the time. Even those who were against racism still lacked the knowledge to understand what drove racism and committed racism themselves. This is still seen today (Harry O’Brien saga). Nonetheless this representation may be reinforced for the majority of the movie but there are parts where it is challenged. Lady Ashley states “Just because it is doesn’t mean it should be”.
This statement is broad, however it is identifying that just because something is accepted by society, doesn’t mean it is the correct approach. Specifically, she is relating this to racism and the belief that the indigenous are inferior. Ashley challenges the belief that the indigenous are viewed as inferior. This displays that Luhrmann for the majority of Australia normalizes the representation that the indigenous are inferior, however in small doses challenges it. Luhrmann raises this representation of cultural identity through the use of various filmic techniques including dialogue.
A last strong representation seen in Australia is the cultural belief that men and women are not equal. In the film, Luhrmann normalizes the cultural identity that men are superior to women. This cultural belief is reinforced through the use of dialogue and setting. Throughout Australia there is a recurring theme that women are inferior to men. For example, the bartender states “No women” are allowed in the bar. They are required to go to their own segregated lounge in the dungy, back of the bar. This use of setting in the bar reiterates this cultural belief.
Another example is the proceedings in town when a dance with the women of the town is sold to the highest bidder. It conveys the idea that women are items that can be bought. This strong use of symbolism reinforces the cultural belief that women are inferior. Another example is the second time Lady Ashley enters the bar, the bartender again states “no women”. The use of repetition reiterates this representation. Eventually, she is granted a drink, however she is only permitted it due to her incredible trek across the “Never-never”. This represents that women have to prove themselves to be worthy to society, whilst men are just accepted. Luhrmann constantly reiterates this belief throughout the film in different examples to identify the problems seen in a pre-feministic world. He displays these problems through his representation of the cultural belief that women are inferior to men. This cultural identity is normalized through the use filmic techniques including symbolism and dialogue.
In the film Australia, Baz Luhrmann displays various representations of different cultural identities seen during the Second World War in a pre-feministic era. This includes the normalized cultural belief that women are inferior to men. He also normalizes the cultural belief that Australia is seen as a mysterious and ‘Wild-western’ nation. Lastly, he normalizes, and in some parts challenges, the cultural attitude that the indigenous are viewed as inferior to white people. Luhrmann displays these representations of cultural identities with filmic techniques including dialogue, symbolism and camera angles. This is how Baz Luhrmann has raised representations of cultural identities in the film Australia through the use of filmic techniques. Furthermore Luhrmann normalizes and/or challenges these representations of cultural identities by filmic techniques.