Occult Aboriginal mysticism. Dreams . Reality. Conflict.

In 1977, Australian director Peter Weir made a haunting film dealing with central themes of cultural understanding, tolerance and man's communication with the natural world. As a follow up to the critical success of his 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave was able to generate a similar foreboding presence of the unknown. Both films deal with mans' compelled acceptance of the spiritual forces that modern society has alienated itself from, all presented within a penetrating atmosphere of suspenseful mystery.


The Last Wave

directed by Peter Weir

Review of the film and Criterion DVD by Gary W. Tooze

A young Sydney lawyer, David Burton ( played by Richard Chamberlain, whom is best remembered as  Doctor Kildare from the TV series of the same name ) is requested by Legal Aid to defend a group of Aborigines who are accused of murder. David is shown as an upper middle class yuppie-type achiever with attractive wife and two cute daughters. They reside in the suburbs of Sydney in a nicely appointed home.

His new clients are making his work quite difficult as they remain silent regarding the incidents surrounding the murder that they are accused of. As he delves deeper into their culture, he is also fraught with lifelike dreams that are interfacing with the details of his case.

Right from the very first scene, the story intimates a parallel to the unusual weather circumstances that are occurring throughout Sydney at the time of the ongoing trial. Large hail falls violently on one day, blotchy mud from the sky's on another. The subtle background sounds of radio broadcasts detail proposed scientific explanations for the events. The plot thickens.

Some of the best interaction of characters in the film is between David and the mysterious, accused aboriginal, Chris Lee ( played by David Gulpilil whom many will remember as a youth in Nicolas Roeg's excellent film,  Walkabout ). The masked discussions involving tribal law and David's uncanny dreams go further to evoke the mystery and suspense of the film.
The ending, with David being led to a spiritual underground cave in which he finds a death mask of his own face and is then confronted by the Aboriginal elder "Charlie" in the initial guise of an owl, is quite haunting and memorable.  The film's final scene, which an explanation is left in abeyance, can become the body of serious interpretational conversation. Has all this mystery surrounded a tsunami that is approaching the Australian shoreline?... is it the end of the world? or simply another dream of David's. It doesn't seem to matter for the eventual "feeling" the of the film that Weir is so adept at transferring to the audience. This is certainly more an "art" film that a run-in-the-mill thriller.

I loved it... many will not. out of

DVD and Film Details

Anamorphic 1.77:1 ratio. Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0.

The picture quality is excellent with many instances in the film where the subtle blue undertones are remarkably visible. Well done again by Criterion.

The Extras on the DVD include an informative 2001 interview ( specially made by Criterion ) with director Peter Weir. He recalls anecdotes involving the making of The Last Wave and his unique interaction with some of the aboriginal cast members. The footage is unfortunately quite short. I felt like it was about 10 minutes long ( in reality it is 10:45 ) and would have loved it to be more in depth, detailed and certainly longer.


Cast overview, (first billed only)

Richard Chamberlain .... David Burton
Olivia Hamnett .... Annie Burton
David Gulpilil .... Chris Lee
Frederick Parslow .... Reverend Burton
Vivean Gray .... Dr. Whitburn
Nandjiwarra Amagula .... Charlie
Walter Amagula .... Gerry Lee
Roy Bara .... Larry
Cedrick Lalara .... Lindsey
Morris Lalara .... Jacko
Peter Carroll (I) .... Michael Zeadler
Athol Compton .... Billy Corman
Hedley Cullen .... Judge
Michael Duffield .... Andrew Potter
Wallas Eaton .... Morgue Doctor

Runtime: USA:106
Country: Australia
Language: English
Color: Color
Sound Mix: Mono
Certification: Sweden:15 / UK:AA / USA:PG

Peter Weir Filmography

1971 Homesdale
1974 The Cars That Ate Paris
1975 Picnic at Hanging Rock
1977 The Last Wave
1979 The Plumber
1981 Gallipoli
1983 The Year of Living Dangerously
1985 Witness (Oscar nomination, best director)
1986 The Mosquito Coast
1989 Dead Poets Society (Oscar nomination, best director)
1990 Green Card
1993 Fearless
1998 The Truman Show



Technical Information

Release Information:
Studio: Home Vision Cinema
Theatrical Release Date: January 1, 1977
DVD Release Date: November 27, 2001
Run Time: 106 minutes
Production Company: Public Media, Inc
Package Type: Keep Case

Aspect Ratio(s):
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.77:1

Discographic Information:
DVD Encoding: Region 1
Layers: Dual
Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
Available subtitles: English

Edition Details:
Region 1 encoding (US and Canada only)
 Color, Closed-captioned, Widescreen
Theatrical trailer(s)
Interview with director Peter Weir
Widescreen anamorphic format


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